African Union set for a 'continent without borders' type single passport for Africans

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016 8.07 AM / quartz/Lily Kuo

When heads of state from across Africa arrive in Kigali, Rwanda next month for the African Union (AU) Summit, they will be among the first Africans issued the new electronic African Union passport. The passport is meant to make travel on the continent much easier for Africans.

“The scene seems to be set to realize the dream of visa-free travel for African citizens within their own continent by 2020,” the AU said in a statement (see below) announcing the launch.

Travel in Africa is difficult for most Africans. They are required to have visas for over half of the countries on the continent. Only 13 African countries allow other Africans to enter without a visa or give visas on arrival. In contrast, Americans can travel to 20 African countries without visas or with visas on arrival.

African travelers say they feel the same suspicion at immigration counters within the continent as they do outside of it. Aliko Dangote, a Nigerian businessman and Africa’s wealthiest man, was himself once turned away by South African immigration officials as he struggled to locate his passport. Meanwhile his American staff sailed through border control.

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Intra-African trade also costs more than any other region—as much as 50% higher than East Asia, for example. A truck serving supermarkets in southern Africa needs to carry as many as 1,600 documents, including permits and licenses, in order to cross borders, according to Anabel Gonzalez, senior director of a World Bank group on trade and global competitiveness.

The goal of the African Union passport is to help turn Africa into a “continent with seamless borders” modeled after the European Union’s Schengen Area. Giving the passports to state leaders is a “symbolic and significant” step, according to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chair of the African Union Commission.

The idea from the African Union has been modelled on the controversial EU Schengen free movement deal, which has abolished many internal borders to enable passport-free movement across the bloc.

Officials have been pushing for increased freedom of movement ever since the Organization of African Unity, a precursor to the AU, was established in the 1960s. The idea has gained traction over the last few years, however, due to the continent’s improving economic fortunes and population growth. The AU wants to abolish visa requirements for all African citizens visiting African countries by 2018, and establish a free trade area across the continent by 2017.

Skeptics point out that creating a truly borderless Africa will likely be quite challenging. The continent hosts many refugees from conflict areas, not to mention militant groups like al-Shabaab or Boko Haram. Then there are public health crises like the Ebola outbreak, and questions posed by the nationality of those who have been deemed stateless.

The Seychelles, Rwanda, Mauritius, and most recently Ghana have all loosened travel restrictions on their fellow Africans, allowing visas on arrivals or entry without the permit. But the process remains slow. Currently, only AU heads of state and government, ministers of foreign affairs, and other AU officials can apply for the passport, which will be recognized in all 54 countries belonging to the organization. A representative of Dangote’s company, Dangote Group, says the Nigerian billionaire will also receive an African Union passport.

“Countries have said that they are going back to look at the practicality of doing their immigration regulation,” says African Union Commission chair Dlamini-Zuma.

“But there is a decision and it is up to all of us to hold our countries to that decision so that indeed Africans can move freely amongst other African countries.”

The AU Statement:
African Union set to launch e-Passport at July Summit in Rwanda
13 June 2016: The African Union (AU) is prepared to launch the electronic passport (e-Passport) at the next AU Summit tabled to take place in Kigali, Rwanda, in July 2016. This flagship project, first agreed upon in 2014, falls squarely within the framework of Africa’s Agenda 2063 and has the specific aim of facilitating free movement of persons, goods and services around the continent - in order to foster intra-Africa trade, integration and socio-economic development.

The Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, has described this initiative as both symbolic and significant, calling it a “steady step toward the objective of creating a strong, prosperous and integrated Africa, driven by its own citizens and capable of taking its rightful place on the world stage.”

Aspirations 2 and 7 of Agenda 2063, respectively, envision an Africa that is ‘integrated’ and ‘united’, and the introduction of the Common African Passport as an effort towards realizing integration and unity on the continent.

The first group of beneficiaries will include: AU Heads of State and Government; Ministers of Foreign Affairs; and the Permanent Representatives of AU Member States based at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The AU e-Passports will be issued to them in July 2016, at the 27th AU Summit in Kigali, Rwanda. In order for all the recipients to acquire the passports, they are strongly encouraged to comply with the needed paper work required to accelerate the processing lead time.

The concept of unrestricted movement of persons, goods and services across regions and the continent is not new; it has been outlined in documents like the Lagos Plan of Action and the Abuja Treaty - an indication that the unhampered movement of citizens is critical for Africa’s development.

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.

Issuance of the AU e-Passport, is expected to pave the way for the Member States to adopt and ratify the necessary Protocols and Legislation with the view to begin issuing the much expected African passport.

For further information contact: Directorate of Information and Communication | African Union Commission I E-mail: dic@african-union.org I Web Site: www.au.int I Addis Ababa | Ethiopia

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