Thirteen African countries are optimistic about creation of a common single African passport by 2020.
The African Union established in 2002, and its predecessor the Organization of African Unity established in 1963, have long aspired to the creation of a United States of Africa, however over 50 years later the prospect of a United States of Africa, detailed more recently as something similar to the European Union Schengen free movement deal, still appears to be some way off.
Discussions over the years have included not only the creation of a common single African passport, but also ambitions that the newly created United States of Africa would include a single currency, preliminarily named the Afro, and a single combined army.
In 2014 it was decided that all heads of state, high rankings officials and diplomats would receive a new African Union e-passport prior to the 27th African Union summit in Rwanda in July 2016. This passport is the first to allow unrestricted movement across the continent, Nkosazana Dlaimini Zuma the chairperson of the African Union commission, said that this was a “steady step toward the objective of creating a strong, prosperous and integrated Africa, driven by its own citizens.”, “It is up to all of us to hold our countries to that decision so that indeed Africans can move freely among other African countries.”.
Freedom of movement across the continent and its resulting economic benefits
Currently, holders of US and European passports can travel around Africa significantly easier than holders of African passports, in fact Africans currently require visas in order to be able to travel to over 50% of African countries, this means that numerous administrative submissions, frequent visits to embassies and delays are commonplace.
The consequence of this is that educated and skilled African workers find it prohibitively difficult to travel around the continent. Daniel Admassu, an African entrepreneur who regularly needs to travel said, “We have to submit a lot of paperwork, including a bank statement, and even then we have to wait for at least two weeks to get a visa in some embassies. That creates a gap between our travels and customers do not always understand,”.
When asked about the prospect of a single African passport, David Zounmenou, from the Institute of Security Studies said, “The idea of a single passport for Africa is certainly appealing and will go a long way to further the dream and hopes of African citizens to witness an integrated continent,”, “It could also further the free movement of people, goods, services and capital.”.
The Minister of Foreign affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo added, “The African passport is among the African strategic initiative intended to disband all the restrictions to move, which will eventually create a conducive environment for Africans to trade with each other,”, “Every country will process the Pan-African passport and people won’t need visa to travel to African countries with it,”, “What we want is for African countries to fast-track this initiative,”.
Will the most successful countries be able to deal with the inevitable population boom as the residents of poorer countries flock to them?
Whilst there can be no doubt that the successful creation of an African passport would benefit the continent hugely, improving both intra-Africa trade and socio-economic development, experts largely agree that its successful implementation is extremely doubtful. When discussing the benefits of an African passport, David Zounmenou said, “Though there has not been any substantial study on the cost, the economic benefits are undeniable. But more importantly, a single passport will help to break artificial barriers that continue to hamper social integration and development in Africa,”, “However, it will not happen. At least not before 2063. Africa is not institutionally and politically ready for that.”.
Discussions between the 54 African states, including an attempted to implement visa free travel across the continent remain unresolved, in fact failure to settle this argument is often held up as an example of why the implementation of a common single passport is still nothing more than a pipe dream.
The African Union is however still hoping to have abolished the requirement for Africans to need visas in order to travel around their own continent, by 2018.
Concerns about how individual nations would be able to control illegal immigration, and withstand threats to their national security are two of the major concerns regularly raised during discussions, add to this the recent outbreak of Ebola and the income some countries accumulate through their visa schemes, and the likelihood of an agreement becomes even harder to imagine.
The African Union remains resolute in their commitment to the successful implementation of the common single African passport.
During the launch of the African Union Summit in Rwanda, an official announced plans to not only abolish the need for Africans to require visas to travel around the continent by 2018, but to also have established free trade across by continent by 2017.
Thirteen African countries have notably shown their optimism and support for the successful creation of a common single African passport by relaxing their visa restrictions, and in some cases actually removing them completely.
In a statement made at the African Union Summit, a representative said, “The scene seems to be set to realize the dream of visa-free travel for African citizens within their own continent by 2020.”.
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