My journey with the ECOWAS travel certificate led to an unexpected and eye-opening experience in Senegal, a nation that is part of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
This article delves into my personal encounter with the ECOWAS travel certificate and the challenges I faced when trying to exercise my right to free movement within the ECOWAS region.
Discovering the ECOWAS Travel Certificate
As a young Nigerian, I came across the ECOWAS travel certificate, which in lieu of the ECOWAS passport offered the promise of unrestricted passage to the 15 ECOWAS member states including Senegal. It seemed like a golden ticket to hassle-free travel through countries such as Benin, Togo, and Cote d’Ivoire where the mere sight of an ECOWAS passport typically grants one entry.
However, my encounter with Senegal spotlighted an issue that seems to be flying under the radar.
My Deportation Dilemma
Senegal, a fellow ECOWAS member, acted contrary to my expectations. Unlike Mauritania which formally exited the ECOWAS community in 2000, Senegal seemed to have stayed, yet its stance was unusual and unsettling.
My near-deportation experience in Senegal as a bearer of the ECOWAS travel certificate,made me question why I should find myself detained and at risk of being sent back to Mali.
Senegal’s Reasons for Rejection
The Senegal Border Officials provided two primary reasons for their rejection of the ECOWAS travel certificate, especially when travelers were coming from Nigeria.
- Firstly, they argued that they had transitioned to digital methods for processing travelers with the electronic passport being the most recognized travel document.
- Secondly, they contended that the ECOWAS travel certificate, being a handwritten booklet, lacked electronic verifiability, making it susceptible to forgery and thus rendering it invalid.
Senegal’s first stance, which was their shift to digital processing clashed with my observations. A significant portion of travelers crossing West African borders still used their National ID cards, necessitating manual documentation upon entry with a register and pen.
If this manual process with National ID cards was considered legitimate, it raised the question of why the ECOWAS travel certificate, which could not be digitally confirmed, was being singled out as unacceptable.
Air Travel Woes
The problems with the ECOWAS travel certificate extended beyond land borders, affecting air travel as well.
The dream of unrestricted movement as outlined in the ECOWAS treaty appeared to be slipping away, buried under stamping fees and bureaucratic protocols faced by ECOWAS members during their travels.
It was evident that a collective effort was needed among ECOWAS member states to revisit and revamp the existing protocols.
Achieving the true essence of free movement within the ECOWAS region should be a shared goal.
My personal experience with the ECOWAS travel certificate revealed the complexities and challenges surrounding free movement within the ECOWAS region.
The rejection of the certificate in Senegal and the barriers faced by travelers underscore the need for a reevaluation of the ECOWAS treaty’s goals.
To make the dream of seamless travel a reality, ECOWAS member states should come together to revisit and update the existing protocols, ensuring that the fundamental principles of free movement are upheld.