The African Union (AU) launched its African passport during the opening ceremony of the 27th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in Kigali, Rwanda on 17th July. The idea behind the passport is for all African citizens to be able to travel throughout the continent without visas. Here’s a few crucial things to know about it.
- It’s not ready for ordinary citizens yet.
There are to be two passports – one issued by the African Union for officials and people who travel a lot on business and the other by individual countries for everyone else. It will bear the African Union’s name and that of the issuing country. The latter are out and Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Chad President Idriss Deby (who is also the Chairperson of the AU) were the first to get one. As for the ones for ordinary citizens, it has been reported that they will be available between the end of 2018 and 2020.
- Morocco is not part of the deal
Morocco left the AU 32 years ago. They were protesting the organization’s recognition of Western Sahara, also known as Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), as a member state. For decades, Morocco has been at odds with Western Saharan independence. In fact, today, Morocco controls most of the territory, but the SADR continues to proclaim itself an independent state. During the most recent Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU, Morocco officially asked to re-join the body on condition that they reject their acceptance of Western Sahara as a state. However, as they are not yet a part of the AU, they will not be part of the visa-free inter-travel.
- It will open up 41 African countries
The Africa Development Bank report on visa openness found out that currently, only 13 out of 55 countries allow all Africans to enter either without a visa or to get one on arrival. The passport will open up the other 41 (not including Morocco) for trade and travel. AU Deputy Chairman Erastus Mwencha told the BBC that he believes that it is necessary for Africa to “harness” the talents, skills and labour of its population.
- It’s been under considerations for almost 3 decades.
The AU has been considering it for the last 25 years. Issues that have been holding back its implementation include: porous borders will lead to more smuggling, illegal immigration and terrorism. Also, open borders could also increase stiff competition for jobs and lead to the spread of diseases like Ebola. The most pressing one is that getting passports to people will also be a logistical nightmare, since 37% of people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have legal identification.
- They will be super secure.
It is a biometric, or e-passport, that meets international standards and will be modelled on the European Union one. Mr Mwencha argues that they will be more secure than the current passports that are not biometric documents. The old passports, he says, are easier to forge. He told the BBC it will be easier to track criminals and terrorists. However, with all countries able to issue the passports, that means a lapse in a single country could affect the entire continent.
- Some countries could block it.
Mwencha says that though no country in the African Union has objected to the plan, it won’t go through if parliaments of particular countries block it. This is because many African countries might be reluctant to open their borders, fearing a huge influx of people from other countries. This might be especially true of South Africa, which currently hosts large numbers of migrants from across the continent, and has seen xenophobic attacks.
- It’s part of a bigger plan.
The roll out of an all-African passport is part of the AU’s Agenda 2063 which was revealed during the AU’s 50th anniversary in 2013. In Chapter 3 of the document, No. 2 of the 8 Aspirations laid out for the future of the continent is ‘An integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance’. Under this it cites accelerating progress towards continental unity and integration for sustained growth, trade, exchanges of goods, services, free movement of people and capital through establishing a United Africa. All this is to meet the bigger goal of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena. This will be brought forth through increased trade and cooperation among the countries.
- There’s just one last problem: Travel infrastructure.
Many African countries have more flights to London or Paris than with other countries on the continent. For example, there are very few flights between Abuja and Dakar – two major West African capitals – and passengers sometimes have to travel via Nairobi or Addis Ababa in East Africa, or even Europe.
So even if the passport is introduced, a lot of work would still need to be done to make African trade easier.