Lying over about one third of the African continent, Central Africa is adjacent to all of Africa’s sub regions. This sub region is the region in Africa most endowed with natural resources especially crude oil and forests reserves. It also holds the largest water reserves on the African continent. Despite such wealth, the manufacturing base in the Central African sub region remains very narrow and although there is availability of relatively good agricultural land, food production is still below the needs of the population.
Many organisations have been created in the sub region with the aim of attaining economic cooperation among the member states. This is notably with the case of the Economic Community for Central African States (ECCAS) which was founded in 1983 and became operational in 1985. Six out of the eleven member states of the sub region share a common currency zone (the CFA Franc) and a monetary zone union known as CEMAC (Communauté economique et monetaire d’Afrique centrale). These six states include Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Chad. The large population in these six member states makes it potentially a huge consumer market, yet sub regional cooperation arrangements have not succeeded in unleashing this full economic potential and move it towards economic integration. Goods manufactured in Central Africa do not circulate easily in the ECCAS zone. Citizens for instance, of Cameroon, are still requested to obtain visas before travelling to Gabon. In contrast citizens of other sub regional groups like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are not requested to obtain visas to circulate in member states. This precarious situation in the above mentioned six member states of ECCAS, impinge on the development of the market for consumer goods while stifling local entrepreneurship. Local producers are left with no choice than to be involved with smuggling and illicit exportation.
The Head of States for the above mentioned six states of the Economic Community for Central Africa (ECCAS) met during their last summit in June 2013. During this meeting the Heads of State for the six states in the ECCAS zone, agreed that visa requirements would henceforth not be obligatory for citizens of member states circulating in these states. This move is to take effect as from January 1, 2004.
Eradicating visa requirements for these six member states is indeed a laudable initiative which would go a long way to facilitate business transactions and economic ties amongst member states of the ECCAS zone. This would indeed unleash the full economic potential and facilitate the move towards economic integration in the sub region. It is also hoped that the eradication of the visa requirements for these six concerned states would facilitate the circulation of goods and agricultural produce in these member states. Eradicating visa requirements without ensuring that stringent barriers like heavy taxation of goods and agricultural produce are equally dismantled would serve no purpose. While citizens of the six member states of ECCAS that share the CFA franc await to benefit from the ‘no visa’ requirement move, it is important that Heads of State of these member states also put in place other measures like curbing heavy taxes. It is also important for these Heads of State to encourage partnership cooperation among the private sectors of these member states so as to facilitate rapid regional integration and economic growth.