AD472: In Zimbabwe, citizens call for free cross-border movement and open trade

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Stephen Ndoma

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state” as well as “the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country” (United Nations, 1948).

And the African Continental Free Trade Area aims to create a single market with free movement of goods and services between countries (World Economic Forum, 2021).

People and goods already move extensively across Southern Africa. According to the International Organization for Migration (2019), the region had more than 7 million migrants in 2017, including 1.3 million Zimbabweans in South Africa. Trade between South Africa and its neighbours totaled about US $19 billion in 2020 (Cross Border Road Transport Agency, 2021). In July, Zimbabwe became the first country to exempt all member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) from visa requirements (Xinhua, 2021).

Yet 16 years after its adoption, the SADC Protocol on the Facilitation of Free Movement of Persons is yet to be ratified by a majority of member states (Okunade, 2021), and crossing international borders for work or trade remains challenging due to incoherent migration policies, curtailed opportunities for permanent settlement, and xenophobia (African Centre for Migration & Society, 2018).

What are the views of ordinary Zimbabweans on movement across international borders, free trade vs. protectionism, and relations with foreign investors and donors?

A recent Afrobarometer survey in Zimbabwe shows that a majority of citizens favour free movement across international borders, but most report that in practice crossing borders is difficult. Majorities endorse free trade with the rest of the world and want the government to continue to permit foreigners and foreign corporations to set up retail shops in the country.

With regard to development funding, most Zimbabweans want the country to finance its development with internal resources rather than external loans. In cases where Zimbabwe receives external loans or development assistance, views are divided on whether strict requirements should govern how such funding is used and should link it to the promotion of democracy and human rights.