• The African Union (AU) has launched its regional passport 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.

    While this is a step forward, the visa-free passport is yet to be made available to all Africans. The first recipients of the electronic passport were the chairperson of the African Union, Idris Deby Itno, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame. The passports which are currently issued to Heads of State, AU officials and select national government personnel, are believed to have high-security features.

    “I feel deeply and proudly a true son of Africa after receiving this passport,” said President Idriss Deby while stressing the importance of fast-tracking integration on the continent to achieve socio-economic growth for the wellbeing of the African citizens, at the 27th AU Summit in Kigali, Rwanda.

    According to Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, African Union Commission chairperson, the issuance of these passports to regular Africans might take a while, as there is no definite timeline. She said that the body has agreed “to create the conditions for member states to issue the passport to their citizens, within their national policies, as and when they are ready.”

    While announcing the planned July launch last month, Dr Nkosazana described the 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.”

    The e-passport will make it possible for the continent to achieve Agenda 2063 which envisions Africa that is “integrated” and “united”.

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    The document is inscribed in five languages; English, French, Arabic, Portuguese and Swahili. The African Union logo is placed at the center of the document sandwiched between two sets of inscriptions. “African Union” translated into the other four languages at the top and below the logo “Diplomatic Passport” with corresponding translations.

    Commenting on the passport, the outgoing AU Chairperson noted: “we’ve been overwhelmed by requests, and enquiries of other Ministers, officials, and Africans citizens to share in this privilege of holding an African passport.”

    The rest of the heads of state will receive their documents in due time.

    One of the major ways to grow economies in Africa is by opening up borders through such efforts as Visa openness. Minimal or no travel limitations will help in exporting and importing of human capital, and the creation of businesses, all of which will boost economies of the countries.

    Even though the AU has availed the e-passport to ease travel within the continent, more has to be done to ensure that the vision is met.

    There is a need to open air routes so as to drive ticket prices down, which will have a positive effect on economies. Air travel remains expensive within Africa, creating an impediment to free movement and trade.

    While there might be some delays as pertaining visa openness in some countries due to fear of opening up avenues for terrorism; the African Visa Openness Report notes that in fact opening up the continent could be the answer to the security menace. David Zounmenou senior research fellow at the Institute for Security Studies added that “centralized records” will “show who is going where.”

    Sharing of information, through strong systems in place, including biometric databases at border controls, and joining up IT systems with other countries and regions could help curb terrorism. The system will allow information sharing and greater cooperation, which in turn minimizes risk and provides higher levels of security overall.

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