This year, the African Union (AU) will unveil the design for a single passport for all Africans. The unified passport will ease the free movement of people while spurring economic growth. It will also promote intra-African trade, and eventually creating a continent with seamless borders.
Coming up in 2019, #AU Commission will present, for adoption, guidelines on the design, production & issuance of the #African #passport, taking us one step closer to the long-held dream of complete free movement across the continent.
— Kwesi Quartey. (@AU_KwesiQuartey) January 2, 2019
In a statement, AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat revealed that at the 32nd African Union summit in February, the commission will present details on the design, production, and issuance of the long-awaited African passport.
First introduced in 2016, the African passport remains exclusive to heads of States and other diplomats. Chadian leader Idriss Déby and Rwandan president Paul Kagame are the first recipients. The document will permit AU passport holders to enter any of the 54 AU member states, without requiring a visa.
The move is likely to be a windfall for citizens of African states, who hold some of the least powerful passports in the world. Movement within their own continent is hard for Africans. At best, only Seychelles and Benin offer visa-free travel to Africans. At worse, travelers from South Sudan and Burundi need visas to go to 48 and 47 African countries, respectively.
But now, the AU faces the challenge of making sure the passport lives up to its potential. That it doesn’t fulfill detractors’ fears of heightened terrorism, smuggling and illegal immigration.
For some, this move will no doubt be challenging, with many African states already resistant to migrants and refugees. Plus, some have been quietly tightening visa policies. Faki, however, stated the AU will push for more integration saying, “the persisting obstacles to our citizens’ movement within their own continent are simply unacceptable.”
Why the single African passport is important
The passport is a step towards eliminating borders on the continent, aiming to enable deeper integration, increased trade and further development. Just as important, the passport is also a powerful symbol of unity across Africa. It’s also a step towards connecting African countries economically and politically.
An AU passport, therefore, represents the latest effort to create a common market spanning the continent, much like that in the E.U.
An African passport is an exciting development that can spur growth and improve living standards. To capitalize on this potential, the AU needs to plan two steps ahead. Crafting thoughtful regulations will be essential to ensuring the African passport’s economic promise is genuinely available to everyone and not subject to abuse.