Single African passport
The African Union Passport was formally launched last week during the 27th African Union Summit in Kigali, Rwanda. African Union (AU) desires a borderless continent by its introduction of African passport which is part of its 2063 Agenda for “a continent with seamless borders.” So far, Mauritius as well as Rwanda are implementing the plan. The project was agreed upon in 2015 and aspires to improve intra-African trade and movement of goods between member states.
AU Commissioner for Political Affairs Dr. Aisha Abdullahi said Africa would soon become borderless as the plan for a single African passport is in progress. “Our people will not have to carry a visa to gain access to other African states. There will be free trade of goods,” she said at the #Africities summit. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), “The AU’s vision is matched by a call to action to introduce an African Passport and abolish visa requirements for all African citizens in all African countries by 2018.” AfDB is also creating “the first Africa Visa Openness Index” which ranks African countries on the level of openness/restrictiveness of their visa regimes. The objective is “to drive visa policy reforms across Africa, simplify visa application procedures and encourage positive reciprocity.”
Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation said the passport should be seen as a blessing not a curse. “Rwanda is ready for the AU Passport issuance. Other countries will also be working towards implementation of this decision. The free movement of people in Africa will spur our economic growth,” Minister Mushikiwabo said on the sidelines of the Summit. He also said after the African Union Passport’s launch, each country will go on and issue the passports according to its national regulations but that this will be done in partnership with the African Union.
He said, “Countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius, Rwanda and Ghana have taken the lead in ensuring easier intra-Africa travel by relaxing visa restrictions and in some cases lifting visa requirements altogether. The scene seems to be set to realize the dream of visa-free travel for African citizens within their own continent by 2020.” the minister explained. She said launching of the AU Passport is expected to begin the process of adoption and ratification of protocols and legislation for the member states.
This development copies other unions across the world which have abolished visa requirements, for instance the border-free Schengen Area (a creation of the Schengen Agreement) where 26 European countries have got rid of passports and other border controls. The member states have a mutual visa policy which eases the free movement of people. Free movement, as a trade and integration tool, has been around for a while in continental development initiatives beginning with the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action as well as the 1991 Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community (AEC), known as the Abuja Treaty.
Integration is good; therefore, we welcome this development. However, in the implementation, AU should take adequate measures to address the concerns of Africans. First, the entire world is troubled with violence and insecurity. But we believe this is a solvable problem even in Africa. Therefore, AU should use its security agencies to fashion effective measures to look into this menace as it plans to open its borders to all. Another concern is the awareness for this initiative. It is quite troubling that our checks revealed that even the agencies that will drive the AU Passport, such as the immigration services, were not informed in some countries. A deliberate campaign in this regard would benefit all concerned.
Finally, AU should look into the weak information technology and electricity infrastructure in member states. Even the regular passport is a problem for many AU member states, let alone a process that would require the integration of databases across borders. While we wholeheartedly welcome the AU single passport, we must warn that good ideas have never been the problem of AU protocols. It is implementation.