Accelerating regional integration by opening borders

In ACET’s African Transformation Report, we show that regional integration can be a very strong catalyst for economic transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa. One sure way to harness the potential gains of regional integration is for neighboring nations to band together and form regional partnerships to facilitate the free mobility of people, goods, and services across borders, thus fostering intra-African trade, investment, and partnership.

True regional integration would mean making sure that industry experts of all kinds can move and work where their capabilities are most needed. That will solve short-term inefficiencies in neighboring markets. This will require extensive structural reforms, amendments to existing regional protocols, and empirically anchored mechanisms and methodologies for implementation. Despite significant progress made by various African countries over the years to economically “gel” through Regional Economic Communities (RECs), there still exist harsh setbacks in realizing the potential gains across and within countries.

At the heart of ACET’s approach to regional integration is the Intra-African Talent Mobility Partnership Program (TMP). Supported by the World Bank under its Development Grant Facility, the TMP is spearheaded by Mauritius in Eastern and Southern Africa, and Ghana in West Africa. The partnership seeks to utilize “Schengen” mechanisms on talent mobility and skills development to accelerate economic integration and open borders, and promote common policies and laws in Africa. The TMP aims to support participating countries in addressing constraints on intra-African labor mobility and skills development gaps that reduce Africa’s attractiveness as an investment destination and hinder countries’ overall economic growth performance.

Specifically, the program’s objectives are to (i) increase access to the right people at the right time in the right place within Africa; (ii) boost growth and competitiveness of companies to ensure talent mobility across borders; and (iii) enhance intra-African talent/labor mobility by developing related comprehensive sound policy reforms. At the core of this program is the development of National Working Groups; in-country assessments; and ultimately a framework agreement of recommended policies (for eventual implementation by participating countries) to enhance intra-African labor mobility and fill needed skills development gaps.

The Regional Multidisciplinary Center of Excellence (RMCE), based in Mauritius, currently serves as the Interim Program Secretariat (IPS) and manager of the allocated funds, while ACET serves as the Program Secretariat and the sub-grantee, managing and coordinating program activities in West Africa.

The West Africa sub-regional initiative of the TMP has successfully secured buy-in from a coalition of four countries—Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Sierra Leone. Each country has successfully formed national working groups with representatives from government, the private sector, and civil society organizations. Additionally, extensive country assessments have unearthed the unique features of each country, which will ultimately feed into the memorandum of understandings to be signed by their respective governments.

As part of core country activities, in November, Ghana held its fourth National Working Group meeting at ACET’s headquarters in Accra to discuss the initial draft of the country assessment by Dr. William Baah-Boateng. Participants included representatives from ACET, Ghana Immigration Service, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Regional Integration, Ghana Chamber of Commerce, Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations, Ministry of Education, Borderless Alliance, Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, Ghana Statistical Service, and the International Organization for Migration. There were extensive discussions on Ghana’s labor stock, labor migration, constraints, opportunities, and proposed strategies to address critical skills gaps.

The following week, experts from 11 countries from the East African Community (EAC), the Accelerated Program of Economic Integration (APEI), and ECOWAS sub-regions, met in Mauritius for a knowledge-sharing forum and Regional Working Group Meeting of the TMP. The objective was to efficiently build consensus on a framework agreement between participating countries on likely policy reforms, as well as to allow the members from each region to tease out policy recommendations capable of facilitating movement of people across borders.

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