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The Multi-layered Constraints the ECOWAS Free Movement Zone is Facing

For the last 40 years countries in West Africa have tried to meet their commitment to letting people move more freely between them. This has been driven by the regional body, The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Launched in 1975 it has 15 member states and its founding treaty foresees the long-term establishment of a free movement zone for goods, capital and people. But it has failed when it comes to enabling the free movement of people. Its free movement protocols have never been fully implemented. A protocol agreed in 1979 sets out free movement of persons, residence and establishment and further spelled out how the free movement zone should be implemented. The protocol recommended three phases: visa-free entry for 90 days, followed by residence and finally right to establishment. Yet, the region continues to see stumbling blocks when it comes to free movement. Analysts identified the main impediments. Firstly members states are having trouble implementing the protocols – especially long-term residence and being able to establish a business. Secondly, individuals trying to cross the border face harassment. Thirdly, a lack of identification documents makes border crossing more complex.