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Survey on the Free Movement of People and Goods in the Ecowas Space
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Survey on the Free Movement of People and Goods in the Ecowas Space

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INTRODUCTION

For more than a decade, and despite political and security challenges, West Africa has witnessed sustained economic growth. But this success has been built, in large part, on fairly traditional productive bases – agriculture, oil, gold…in short, commodities that are often little or not transformed.

Diversification of sources of wealth and employment is therefore a key issue. And with a population of over 350 million and a surface area of 6 million km2, trade within this regional market can make a major contribution to this: it offers great opportunities for both trade and manufacturing, and could encourage the processing of a wider range of agricultural products.

With its fifteen (15) Member States: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte D’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, the Economic Community of West African States is a huge human and economic potential.

But these commercial exchanges – current, nowadays, or potential, future – are condemned to cross borders between West African countries, border crossings that are too often clogged with obstacles to exports and imports between member countries of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States).

The 1975 ECOWAS Treaty, revised in 1993, establishes a free trade area under the ECOWAS Programme on the Liberalization of Trade (PLEC). The various protocols and decisions are intended to establish a free trade area, which, according to the West Africa Trade Hub report, is a forerunner of a fully-fledged customs union and, ultimately, a common market.

The ECOWAS region has always been an area of extreme population mobility. The bulk of migration flows are overland through more than 15,000 km of borders between ECOWAS countries.

The West Africa Trade Hub report produced in April 2010, noted many gaps in the level of implementation of the protocol on the free movement of people and goods within states and between ECOWAS countries. The report resulted in recommendations that should enable ECOWAS countries to improve the level of implementation of protocols and decisions relating to the free movement of persons, goods and transport vehicles.

Nearly a decade after the publication of this report and at the end of the 2020 horizon, which constitutes the one of the ECOWAS of the peoples, it is expected that the citizens of the community space will be better informed about the protocols and decisions and that they will therefore become real actors in the creation of this community space and regional integration. On the other hand, significant progress in the implementation of PLEC is expected.

It was with a view to assessing the level of implementation and progress that a summary survey was conducted on the free movement of persons and goods at border posts in Benin and Guinea and among stakeholders involved in the national implementation of protocols and decisions relating to the free movement of persons and goods.

This study, based on field research – interviews with traders, transporters and government officials – seeks to assess these barriers, both formal and informal, at three major border crossings in the West African region, in Semé-Kraké (Benin/Nigeria), Hillacondji (Benin/Togo) and Thiola (Guinea/Guinea- Bissau).

By studying these examples, this material seeks to better capture the reality of the experience of those involved in the day-to-day economic trade between countries in the region — to better understand the obstacles that hinder their activity and to stimulate reflection on possible reforms that could better facilitate trade between West African countries.

Data collection for this survey was done with the interview guides for institutional interviews with officials from the police, customs, foreign affairs, and the regional integration monitoring unit (for Benin) of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. As for the users of border posts, namely travellers, transporters and traders, they were subjected to questionnaires at the border posts of Semé-Kraké (Benin/Nigeria), Hilacondji (Benin/Togo) and Thiola (Guinea/Guinea-Bissau).

In parallel with the work of our research group, Afro barometer prepared an analysis of its own research on border crossing conditions between Benin and Togo, based on quantitative research in 2017 and qualitative interviews in January 2020. This work provides us with a useful comparative measure, while taking into account methodological differences with the parameters of our research. We shall therefore draw some conclusions from this in the text that follows.

Benin, moving towards full implementation of the protocol on the free movement of persons and goods?

Benin shares its borders with four countries of the Economic Community of West African States, namely Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Togo, for a total of 2,123 km. On the Abidjan-Lagos road, Benin borders Nigeria in the East (Sèmè Krake) and Togo in the West (Hillacondji). These two cities are the official entry points into Benin from Nigeria and Togo respectively.

The report of the Task Force on the implementation of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme recognized Benin as a model for the free movement of persons and goods within the ECOWAS area. This recognition was confirmed by the data collected from both users and the institutions in charge of implementing the protocol at national level.

On the free movement of persons

Benin is facilitating the implementation of the protocol on the free movement of persons, through the recognition of the identity card as the document required for citizens of the area, the non-requirement of a visa and the raising of awareness among users without documents. Despite this effort, many challenges persist at border crossings because many users show up without any documents. About 50% of the users surveyed said this, demonstrating the need for states to work on providing their citizens with identity documents.

Also, no fees are paid at the Beninese borders, which is not the case at the Togolese or Nigerian borders where corruption is reported by more than 80 per cent of users. These fees are not only charged to undocumented travelers but also to legal travelers — who are sometimes required to pay to ensure a rapid border crossing.

Afro barometer researchers also found that travelers experience more difficulties passing through Togolese controls than through Beninese controls.

The level of satisfaction noted among users of Benin’s borders is due to the Government’s willingness to remove all barriers to the movement of persons and goods on its territory and at its borders. Thus, a hot line is available to report and signal violations — which has led to a level of discipline among police officers.

However, the facilities created by Benin for all the citizens of the space are not applied to its nationals at border posts on the Abidjan-Lagos corridor — which is the subject of complaints to Beninese police officers. Unfortunately, the latter are not in a position to make a change, since the integrity of officials and the effective application of the protocol depend on the understanding and willingness of each State and the measures put in place to facilitate the crossing of their borders. These complaints to the police are nevertheless indicative of a lack of awareness of the complaints mechanism set up by ECOWAS as part of the implementation of the protocol.

It should be noted that Benin has not yet succeeded in ensuring freedom of movement for its nationals by providing them with biometric identity cards in accordance with the Protocol. Nevertheless, measures have been taken to enable Beninese citizens to have access to civil status records and very soon to the biometric identity card, the pilot phase of which begins with Beninese nationals in Nigeria.

The free movement of people, although effective in Benin, does not have the same level of application in other States. It is also noted that users of border posts have a poor perception of free movement which, according to some reactions at the borders, should disregard the possession of the travel documents required by the Protocol and any controls.

Benin’s application of the protocol raises other security concerns because of the low number of officers and the lack of effective means of checking and searching users.

Free movement of goods

Like the movement of persons, Benin ensures the free movement of goods within its territory in accordance with the Protocol. This prerogative of customs is not subject to major obstacles as long as the products comply with Community requirements and have the necessary documents for export – including the certificate of origin and SLEC approval.

The good level of knowledge among traders and transporters is likely to facilitate customs formalities. However, there are Beninese commercial actors who are not aware of the SLEC and its requirements, even though Benin has taken the necessary steps to facilitate the formalities for issuing approvals and certificates of origin to interested companies. In fact, the predominant role played by the informal sector in the Beninese economy may justify this lack of awareness or interest in SLEC. The weight of the informal sector in Benin’s economy has a negative impact on the proper evaluation of the system. Circumvention by informal actors of the rules established to ensure the smooth passage of goods leads some States to set up non-tariff measures.

Benin does not have bans on community products as Nigeria has since 2002 . A ban that impedes the free movement of goods in accordance with the Protocol, as has been the case since the border was closed. Indeed, the products banned from entering Nigeria from Benin or transiting through Benin go beyond the smuggled product (rice) cited by Nigeria.

While in Benin speed is observed in formalities for Community products, this is not always the case with Nigeria, which questions documents originating in Benin or requires Nigerian certifications such as NAFDAC approval for agri-food products and SON approval for manufactured products before they enter its territory.

This situation stemming from the desire to protect local industry in the countries is indicative of the lack of respect for free practice and the lack of trust between ECOWAS member states on the various documents issued by the countries of origin of the products and is not in harmony with the 2020 vision of the organization, which recognizes that: “the integration of member states into a viable regional community may require the partial and progressive pooling of their national sovereignty for the benefit of the Community within the framework of a collective political will” . It is also true that certain practices of companies and transporters such as false declarations, overloading, falsification of certifications and non-compliance with the provisions of the Customs Code are not conducive to facilitating free trade in space. Also, security issues, such as those raised by Nigeria, raise the issue of the capacity of ECOWAS states to equip themselves with efficient tools for scanning goods to ensure that prohibited products do not enter their territory.

It should also be noted that the corruption of officials at border crossings is not conducive to guaranteeing the security of states, which remains a major obstacle to the free movement of goods in a context marked by terrorism.

1 Since 2002, Nigeria has become increasingly protectionist in terms of trade by banning many of these goods or commodities, in defiance of ECOWAS rules in WEST AFRICA TRADE HUB TECHNICAL REPORT # 45

The practice of informal trade, particularly with Nigeria, which has been exacerbated by the closure of the borders, is indicative of the obstacles that citizens of the region would have to endure in the absence of a protocol on free movement. While the freedom of movement of people concerns all citizens of the area without any exception, the freedom of movement of goods concerns only companies with a formal existence in terms of the tax implications of the Protocol.

This protocol should therefore encourage companies to formalize their activities in order to benefit from the benefits of the SLEC — which is not yet the case.

It would therefore be interesting for the States to inform their citizens of the advantages linked to the free movement of persons and goods within the ECOWAS area, in order to reach the ECOWAS of the peoples as desired by the Heads of State of the Community by 2020 — a horizon that will no doubt be reviewed in view of the disparities in the application of the protocol and its lack of knowledge by the citizens of the area who are the first concerned.

In a context where Benin has made progress through its internal policies to improve its implementation of the protocol, the closure of the border by Nigeria raises, on the one hand, the question of the settlement of disputes between States.

Indeed, such a situation should not hinder the free movement of people and goods to which the various states agreed when they signed the Protocol in 1979. According to testimonies received, since 29 August 2019, when the border was closed, if only users with passports are allowed to cross the border between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m., no goods cross the border to Nigeria and vice versa.

On the other hand, the issue of the place and role of ECOWAS institutions in the management of crises between States also remains a thorny subject that merits reflection and would underpin the relevance and legitimacy of these bodies that must work to make regional integration and economic union a reality.

Regarding the experience of transporters at the Benin/Togo border crossing, Afro barometer research indicates that there are more fees to be paid in Togo than in Benin – a result that is consistent with our own research findings.

The detailed results of these surveys are presented in an Excel document that supports this commentary and analysis document.

The implementation of the Protocol on the free movement of people and goods at the Guinean border of Thiola

Guinea is a member of ECOWAS, and is located on the Praia-Dakar-Abidjan corridor. It borders six other countries in the ECOWAS region: Mali to the north and north-east, Côte d’Ivoire to the east, Sierra Leone and Liberia to the south, Guinea Bissau to the west, and Senegal to the north-west.

2 https://www.ecowas.int/a-propos-de-la-cedeao/vision-2020/?lang=fr

Like Benin, Guinea has ratified the various protocols relating to the free movement of people and goods, but face challenges in making this sub-regional ambition effective. Indeed, in 2018, during the commemoration of ECOWAS Integration Day celebrated in Pamelap, on the border with Sierra Leone, the country representative of ECOWAS in Guinea, Mrs. Liliane Alapini, deplored the failure to respect the laws on the free movement of people and goods at checkpoints. In 2020, the situation does not seem to have changed, at least that is what emerges from the survey carried out at the border with Guinea-Bissau.

The survey on the free movement of people and goods in the ECOWAS region was carried out at the border with Guinea-Bissau, specifically in Thiola in the prefecture of Boké, the capital of the region of the same name.

This border post is located about 8 km from the Guinea Bissau border post. This border between these two countries has three accesses, namely, Woudjagoli, Thiola and Bérékoé. Its specificity is that it is being held only by the army, which plays the role of the police, gendarmerie, customs, environmental services and health. At about 60 km from this border post is the roadblock held by the customs and gendarmerie. The police station is 18 km from the dam.

This dispersal of these different bodies along the route accounts for the complaints of users and carriers about harassment.

This survey on free movement in the ECOWAS area reached 22 people including 10 traders and 12 transporters who claimed to cross the border between Guinea and Guinea Bissau often carrying national identity cards. However, the protocol on the free movement of people and goods is almost unknown to both carriers and travelers. ECOWAS is only known to the users interviewed at this border through its project to build the road between the town of Boké and Guinea Bissau.

This situation is at the root of the respondents’ ignorance on the full implementation of these border protocols. The same applies to their non-involvement in the application of these instruments. With regard to the free movement of persons, one fifth of users are familiar with some of the required travel documents, such as the ECOWAS residence card, travel certificate or ECOWAS passport, and make efforts to comply with the law by acquiring their national identity document.

It is nonetheless necessary for a good knowledge of ECOWAS and its objectives or the free movement of persons and goods, that the various parties involved in the implementation of the protocol be more aware and informed, particularly at the border post.

The poor state of the roads and the high number of roadblocks are unanimously seen as difficulties that hamper the free movement of people and goods at this border post. It should be noted that this problem is common to many countries in the region since, in its official gazette, ECOWAS had recalled that: “transport operations on the West African corridors” were characterized by the dilapidated state of the communication routes (road, rail) and, moreover, by insufficient maintenance; lack of knowledge and fragmented interpretation of institutional and legal instruments; administrative controls and illegal levies by the Police, Customs and Gendarmerie (P.D.G); transport vehicles (road, rail) are also obsolete and are mostly unsuitable for customs filling and sealing, which are essential for inter-State trade.

In addition to these problems are the informal charges that most users acknowledge paying, in addition to the formal charges; as far as transporters are concerned, these are based on the type or make of vehicle and goods.

As for the speed of border crossing formalities, it depends on the flow of users and can be less than an hour when there are not many vehicles or even a day.

Security and health issues also remain and require diligent action to ensure good communication between border officials and their military bases, but also the search of luggage and goods crossing the border and the health status of users in a context of terrorism and epidemics.

While Guinea has officially declared that it has eliminated all roadblocks on its territory except for the border checkpoints and the PK 36 checkpoint in its capital, the survey reveals that roadblocks are installed on all roads like in all ECOWAS member states. The negative impact of these dams on crossing time and the final cost of the goods is considerable and is reflected in illicit levies.

Conclusion

The survey on the application of the protocols on the free movement of persons and goods at the Sèmè-Krake, Hilla Condji and Thiola border posts highlights the divergences in application which are a function of the understanding and internal policies put in place by Member States.

Travelers, traders and transporters continue to experience difficulties at border crossings despite the reforms adopted by ECOWAS member States to facilitate the movement of people and goods within the subregion. Our December 2019-January 2020 survey demonstrates the persistence of the difficulties that the Chatham House 2015 and Afro barometer 2017 research showed and therefore confirms that the situation has not significantly improved over the last five years.

While there is a post juxtaposed on the Benin-Nigeria border, the Benin-Togolese border post is under construction. However, in the case of Guinea and Guinea Bissau, 8 km separate the two border posts, which shows that the configuration of the borders and the public services present vary from one country to another and are not provided by the same type of personnel.

However, it was noted that the frequency of crossing at border crossings remains the best way to learn about the protocol and its requirements, as is the case with carriers and merchants. However, their knowledge of the Protocol and compliance with the requirements in terms of free trade does not guarantee the acceptance of their product by the other countries in the Community area and is not free of various police or customs hassles as required by the Protocol.

Thus, major problems remain common to these two countries and perhaps to many other countries in the space and require urgent and collective action by the states of the Community space such as :

  • informing and raising the awareness of citizens and stakeholders on the Protocol, its implementation and its benefits;
  • the issue to citizens of member countries of travel documents recognized by all countries, in accordance with the Protocol;
  • equipping border posts with high-performance search and control equipment;
  • the effective fight against corruption at border crossings and on the roads of the different States;
  • the interconnection of the customs administrations of the countries within the space through the dematerialization of the delivery of approvals by ECOWAS and their on-line publication,
  • the creation of a common secure platform accessible to the competent services of the Member States for the on-line availability of the main documents issued by the Member States (certificate of origin), which would facilitate the control of documents at borders;
  • the transposition of the Protocol and its various implementing texts into national legislation;
  • training of the administrative structures involved in the implementation of the Protocol;
  • informing and raising awareness among citizens about the protocol and its requirements,
  • the mobilization and pooling of own resources for the implementation of the Protocol;
  • the co-creation of enterprises by citizens of the area, and access to Community funding opportunities in order to create a sense of belonging of products to a common area and their free movement;
  • the creation of a common currency to facilitate trade.

Faced with the challenges in implementing the Protocol, and the protectionist attitude of some States, the will – or lack of will – of States to achieve real regional integration and the establishment of a common market remains a crucial element. The future of the ECOWAS community space must be questioned in a context where the development of a continental free trade area is underway and whose success in West Africa will depend on the goodwill of ECOWAS and its member states.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Gap Analysis of Market Integration within ECOWAS: Preliminary Results, West Africa Trade Hub Technical Report No.33
    1. Protocol A/P 1/5/79 on the Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Establishment
    1. ECOWAS Revised Treaty
    1. http://afrobarometer.org/fr/analyse-de-donn%C3%A9es-en-ligne/l%27analyse-en-ligne 5- Nigeria’s Booming Borders, Chatham House, 2015

Coordination: Blanche Sonon

Editorial staff: Paul Melly, Pamela Agbozo, Thierno Malick Diallo, Richard Houessou

Data collection and processing: Social Watch Benin, Stat View International, Afro barometer

Appendix 1 : SURVEY LIST IDENTITY Travellers

IDENTITYSTRUCTURENUMBER
Travelers 15
Transporters/Traders 13
Police 1
Customs 1
Sub-Total Sèmè kraké29
Travelers 10
Transporters/Traders 10
Police 5
Customs 1
Sub-Total Hilla condji26
Africa and Middle East DivisionMAE1
Legal Affairs DivisionMAE1
Office of Economic Relations and International TradeMAE1
Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Benin 1
African Integration Monitoring UnitOffice of Regional Integration / Ministry of Economy and Finance1
CustomsOffice of Intelligence and Customs Investigations1
Ministry of Commerce 1
Transporters/Users Thiola border(Guinea)22
Police1
Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Craftmanship of Boke1
TOTAL  86

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