Region edges to visa-free regime

Lovemore Ranga Mataire in Windhoek, Namibia
The Southern African Development Community is expediting negotiations for creation of a visa-free region, it has been learnt.

Briefing the media after the conclusion of the Sadc Council of Ministers here meeting last week, Namibia’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation said significant progress had been made in this regard.

The Sadc Council of Ministers met on August 13 and 14.

The regional bloc commended member states that have begun operationalising bilateral visa exemptions, while encouraging those that have not done so to quicken negotiations and report on progress at the next Summit of Heads and State and Government.

It was noted last week that although the idea of relaxing visa requirements among member states had been on the table for long, little progress has been made due to lack of operational systems in some countries.

Under the Sadc Protocol on Facilitation of the Free Movement of Persons in Africa of 2005, the region should develop policies for progressive elimination of obstacles to free movement of capital, goods, services and people.

In 2006, Sadc members proposed that travelers from the region should be allowed a maximum 90-day visa-free stay. However, some countries are reluctant to sign the Protocol.

The Council of Ministers has resolved to urge member states to actively participate in AU meetings discussing the issue of the African passport and re-affirm Sadc’s common position on the Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment in Africa.

The Council was also seized with concerns over post-Cotonou Agreement negotiations.

Member states are not agreed on whether African countries should engage with the European Union under the ambit of the traditional African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping, or exclude the Caribbean and Pacific.

It has been agreed that African foreign ministers and ministers in charge of negotiations with the EU will meet in September to agree on the way forward, including hammering out a common position and negotiating strategy.

Minister Nandi-Ndaitwa said: “As Namibia takes over the chairmanship of Sadc, it has the opportunity to drive the agenda of Sadc forward. More so, the country can push forward issues it considers crucial to economic growth and development of the region, as guided by the theme of the Summit.”

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