• One of the Africa’s Agenda 2063 is to create “a continent with seamless borders” to promote the free movement of citizens and goods.

    The plan to initiate the new electronic African Union (AU) passport seems to be taking shape as the first Africans to be issued with the electronic passport (e-Passport) will be the heads of state from across Africa who will arrive in Kigali, Rwanda next month. The leaders will be attending the African Union Summit.

    The flagship project, first agreed upon in 2014, is part of the framework of Africa’s Agenda 2063 and is aimed at facilitating free movement of persons, goods, and services around the continent - in order to foster intra-Africa trade, integration, and socio-economic development. The AU said in a statement that the e-Passport will be launched at the 27th AU Summit in Kigali in July.

    According to the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, this initiative is 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.”

    Travel within Africa is challenging for most Africans as they are required to have visas. Africans need visas for half of the countries in the continent. Although the number of countries that offer liberal access (to enter without a visa or give visas on arrival) to all Africans has grown from 5 to 13 over the past three years, opening up countries will lead to faster development through trade and job creation opportunities that arise from expanded markets.

    A report released by the African Development Bank (AfDB), indicated that in contrast, Americans had more ‘freedom’ to travel to 20 African countries without visas or with visas on arrival compared to 13 for Africans.

    Apart from it being a “quick-win on development,” opening up a country’s visa regime “promotes talent mobility and business opportunities,” Moono Mupotola, Director of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, Regional Integration and Trade at the AfDB said.

    Modeled after the European Union’s Schengen area, the AU passport is the right move towards a continent without borders.

    Since the establishment of Organization of African Unity, what is now known as AU, in the 1960s, the idea to push for freedom of movement has been there. However, it is not until recently that the plan has gained traction due to improving economic standings and population growth in the region.

    With the current pace at which the notion is taking shape, the AU’s goal to abolish visa requirements for all African citizens visiting African countries by 2018 might be realized by then. The regional body also hopes to establish a free trade area across the continent by 2017.

    Already, countries such as Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, and Ghana are at the forefront in ensuring easier intra-Africa travel by relaxing visa restrictions and in some instances lifting visa requirements altogether.

    “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,” a statement by AU read in part.