Africa is set to start rolling out a single African passport to African citizens. Billed the African Union e-Passport, the electronic document will provide visa-free access for African citizens to all 54 African states in the AU, making travelling in Africa much easier for its citizens.
The passports have initially been granted to AU Heads of state and government, ministers and foreign affairs, and the permanent representatives of AU member states based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was first used in 2016, by select AU officials and representatives during the 27th Ordinary Session of the African Union Summit in Kigali, Rwanda. The passport was awarded to President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Chairperson of the AU, President Idriss Deby of Chad. “These are great steps we are taking. Our Union has great ambitions in order to ensure economic and political integration”, says Deby. The hope is that by 2018, single-visa passports will be able to be issued to all African citizens across the continent, thus abolishing restrictive visa requirements for African citizens travelling within the continent.
The policy is based off of the European Union’s Schengen Area, a group of 26 European countries with no visa requirements to travel within them for European citizens. This policy has helped make Europe the biggest tourist destination in the world.
The visa is a part of Africa’s 2063 plan of action adopted in 2013, which calls for “all segments of African society to work together to build a prosperous and united Africa based on shared values and a common destiny.” Aspiration 2 of the plan focuses on an integrated continent with seamless borders. “The scene seems to be set to realize the dream of visa-free travel for African citizens within their own continent by 2020,” reads an AU press release. AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma described the single visa initiative as 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.”
This possibility is all dependent on countries passing the necessary legislation in their own countries. It will be available to all countries within the AU that have passed the necessary legislation. The open visa policy has already successfully been incorporated in countries such as Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda, Mauritius and the Seychelles.
The single visa is hoped to bring about greater integration across the continent, as well as stronger economic and trade growth. Through this, people with skills will be easily entering various African countries, and promoting employment opportunities in the continent. Intra-state trade will also be greater supported, which could help ease economic dependence on international powers. Furthermore, this will hopefully ease restrictive visa requirements that have prevented travel for many African citizens in the past. In addition, the passport might have an added safety bonus. AU Deputy Chairman Erastus Mwencha argues that It being an e-document will make the visa more secure than the old ones, as they are more difficult to forge. Thus, it will be easier to track terrorists and criminals.
Of course, as with anything, there are concerns. Some worry that this free-movement visa might open up Africa to the possibility of greater terrorism, human and drug trafficking and criminal syndicates who manage to bypass the system. A flaw in just one countries legislation system might put the rest of the continent at risk. Furthermore, the job market in many African countries might become even more competitive with the relaxing of travel. Considering the mass difference in economies across African states, this single-visa passport might encourage a greater one-way flow of migrant workers to countries that are perceived as providing more economic opportunity. \there is the possibility that this might bring up Afrophobic sentiments, which many African countries are not strangers to, as seen in South Africa’s many xenophobic attacks of 2009. Finally, there is the argument that the single-visa passport would cut down on revenue from visa fees, which many African countries have come to depend on as a source of income.
It is apparent that there are both pros and cons to the possibility of a single-visa passport in Africa. What do you think? Is a single African passport for all African citizens a good idea for African growth?