The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) is a 19 Member State bloc promoting regional economic integration through trade and investment. Through its Secretariat, COMESA works to promote free movement of goods and people within the region. In 2003, IOM signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with COMESA outlining key areas for cooperation, namely: managing migration in Eastern and Southern Africa; border management in the context of regional integration and economic cooperation; research on the harmonization of legislation on migration and related matters; establishment of a comprehensive migration information systems in the COMESA region; and other areas of common interest. In close coordination with the IOM Regional Office for Southern Africa in Pretoria, the IOM office in Zambia provides support to COMESA to promote humane and orderly movement of people, both as an economic and human necessity. In 2017, IOM stepped up this support.
In July 2017 the UN Migration Agency worked with the COMESA Secretariat to host its first ever Regional Consultative Process (RCP) on Migration, otherwise known as the Migration Dialogue for COMESA Member States, or simply MIDCOM.
COMESA recognizes the great importance of migration in the context of free trade, noting that for regional integration to be fully realized, citizens of its member states must be allowed to move freely to provide and enhance services, tourism, labour and cultural activities, among other aspects of the COMESA integration agenda. The MIDCOM meeting – themed ‘Enhancing Regional Cooperation and Mobility through Effective Governance Mechanisms, Data and Dialogue’ – represents an important step to join other regions with established RCPs in Africa, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Migration Dialogue for Southern Africa (MIDSA), the Migration Dialogue for West Africa (MIDWA) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which were established to provide a platform for dialogue on migration governance in a comprehensive and effective manner.
The MIDCOM dialogue serves to facilitate information exchange, cooperation among states and ultimately establish a regional and holistic approach for addressing migration. The MIDCOM also provides a forum for Member States to engage in non-binding dialogue.
The MIDCOM meeting was officially opened by the Honourable Minister of Home Affairs of the Republic of Zambia, Mr. Stephen Kampyongo MP. During the official opening of the MIDCOM meeting, the Honourable Minister indicated that, "Migration is part and parcel of human development and COMESA will not achieve regional integration without free movement of people. We must therefore generate information to allay fears on migration and promote the positive contribution of migrants so that our people can appreciate that co-existing in our countries is fundamental in what we want to achieve in terms of sustainable development."
Speaking at the event, COMESA Assistant Secretary General Ambassador Dr. Kipyego Cheluget emphasized that, “There is urgent need to encourage more cooperation and less border controls to facilitate free movement of bona fide persons within the COMESA regions.” He appealed to COMESA member states to ensure that the RCP is an annual event and called upon the member states to promote the speedy signature and ratification of the COMESA Free Movement Protocol.
IOM’s Regional Director for Southern Africa, Mr Charles Kwenin, added that, "IOM supports over 15 of such RCPs globally including all Regional Dialogues and RCPs in Africa, and COMESA will not be an exception." Mr. Kwenin further stated that IOM has provided support to 11 COMESA Member States to develop Migration Profiles, which serve to provide a comprehensive overview of migratory dynamic and realities and can provide the necessary information to inform evidence based policing.
The MIDCOM meeting in July 2017 was preceded by the 10th Meeting of the COMESA Chief of Immigration Officers, which considered progress was made towards ratification of COMESA’s Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons, Labour, Services, Right of Establishment and Residence (otherwise known as the Free Movement Protocol). This event included the official launch of a flagship training and awareness-raising programme for COMESA Member States, which forms part of a pilot project of support to the Governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe, funded by the IOM Development Fund (IDF).
The last quarter of 2017 saw COMESA host its 37th COMESA Intergovernmental Committee Meeting in October 2017. The meeting was held under the theme: ‘Towards digital economic integration’.
In her keynote address to the meeting, the Guest of Honour, Minister of Trade, Commerce and Industry in Zambia, Honourable Margaret Mwanakatwe MP, noted that, “Migration has important linkages to economic growth”. She added that, “Citizens of COMESA Member States should be able to move freely in the COMESA region to further economic development.” At the same event the IOM Zambia Chief of Mission, Ms. Marianne Lane, during delivery of remarks at the official opening, expressed appreciation for the long-standing collaboration between IOM and COMESA. Ms. Lane underlined the need for improved migration governance in the context of regional integration and development in the COMESA region; as reflected within the framework of the UN General Assembly and the proposed Global Compact on Migration (GCM).