- The citizens of Botswana and Namibia will no longer need to use passports.
- They will only need to produce national identity cards.
- The move has been lauded as vital for achieving free movement, more unity, and integration in Africa.
The leaders of Botswana and Namibia agreed to establish a passport-free travel arrangement for the two countries’ citizens. The arrangement is now already in effect, with citizens no longer required to produce passports. They are now only required to produce their respective national identity cards.
The agreement was brought to life through the sustained bilateral diplomatic co-operation between Botswana’s president Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Namibian counterpart Hage Geingob.
This arrangement, allowing for the free movement of citizens between the two countries, is operational at the Mamuno/Trans-Kalahari border crossing.
The Memorandum of Agreement (MoU) abolishing the need for passports was signed by the leaders of the two Southern African Development Conference (SADC) countries on 24 February 2023.
The noble initiative to do away with passports between the two countries was first mulled in 2019.
It demonstrates “unwavering commitment to implement a uniquely progressive aspect of the strategy bilateral cooperation between the two countries”, according to a statement released by the government of Botswana.
What the leaders of the two countries envisaged in signing this MoU revolves around fostering more unity and co-operation not only on a bilateral level but on a regional level (SADC) and continental level at large.
President Masisi thus remarked, “The authorization of the use of national identity documents to cross our national borders, is a clear demonstration of our steadfast commitment to promote relations between our countries and foster social cohesion among our citizens, as well as enhance regional cooperation and integration.”
This agreement makes Namibia and Botswana the first countries in the SADC region to implement a passport-free travel arrangement for their citizens.
The Namibian President Hage Geingob said that the move to do away with the need for passports is vital towards achieving more integration among SADC member states, and the entire continent at large.
“We are taking the first steps towards realization of (the) SADC Protocol on the facilitation of movement of persons, not only goods but persons.
“In the same vein, steps like these could form a foundation whose stepping stones may lead to the path in inspiring Africans to attain continental integration.”
Geingob ruled out the possibility of increased criminal elements in the region due to the ease of travel.
“Somebody was saying that we are going to allow the criminals to now roam around freely and do what they can do.
“I am telling you, no, that is not the issue. If you are a criminal, we will get you. To the citizens of our two countries the use of identity cards as travel documents is being put in place for the convenience of our citizens. It is your project and its success depends on you.”
Masisi also hinted that in light of the no-passport arrangement that has been implemented, Botswana will go on to introduce an electronic identity card.
“The Botswana passport is an electronic document that contains the biometric information that can be used to verify and authenticate the identity of travelers through a computer scan. In this regard, the Government of Botswana has also embarked on a process to transform the national identity card to an electronic identity card,” professed Masisi.
The permanent secretary of Botswana’s Home Affairs ministry, Rule Jimmy Opelo, outlined the indispensable salience of the no-passport travel arrangement between the two countries.
He stated: “The use of national identity cards for cross-border travel will enhance the momentum for economic and regional integration and further promote safe and orderly migration.
“This development will become even more impactful on people's lives as Mamuno/Trans-Kalahari border post attains a full-fledged status of a One Stop Border Post, operating on a 24-hour basis later this year.
“It will also foster social cohesion among the citizens of the two nations, who share profound historical, cultural and economic bonds, in addition to the values of democracy, self-determination as a people, human rights, peace, rule of law, and good governance, among others.”
The implementation of the passport-free travel arrangement is a monumental achievement for African unity and the hope is that more African countries can work towards free movement on a bilateral and multilateral level.