Published On: Tue, Aug 9th, 2016

Is an Africa-wide passport within reach?

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Screen-Shot-2016-08-02-at-10.50.10The free movement of people, goods and services in Africa has been a major goal of both the African Union (AU)since its inception and its predecessor the Organisation of African Unity, which was formed some 63 years ago. Pan-Africanists have long dreamed of a United States of Africa, but Africans today still find it difficult to travel across the continent without facing roadblocks and delays.

According to the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) ‘Visa Openness Index’ report, Africans must possess visas to travel to 55% of countries on the continent, with just 20% of nations not requiring a visa. People who hold a United States passport or a passport from many European countries can travel around Africa with more ease than Africans themselves. Although a number of token gestures have been made by AU leaders, most recently the announcement that heads of state, diplomats and other high-ranking officials will soon receive the first African e-passports, the widespread usage of a single African passport may be some time away.

Who benefits?

Introducing an AU passport would be a key boost to aspirations of a borderless Africa, based on the European Union’s Schengen Area, which covers most of its member states.

“The idea of a single passport for Africa is certainly appealing and will go a long way to further the dream and hopes of African citizens to witness an integrated continent,” says David Zounmenou, senior research fellow at the Institute for Security Studies. “It could also further the free movement of people, goods, services and capital.”

The need for visas has a heavy impact on frequent intra-African travellers such as businesspeople and entrepreneurs. Having to make countless visits to embassies, submit paperwork and wait for approval  can waste days and help lose sensitive deals. Highly talented African workers will also gain from the proposed passport.

“The African passport could represent a good opportunity mostly for African professionals in order for them to find more satisfying and remunerative jobs in other countries of the continent,” says Dr Cristiano d’Orsi, research fellow at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria.

Although the economic benefits to Africa cannot be understated, many do not believe the implementation of an African passport is realistic. “Though there has not been any substantial study on the cost, the economic benefits are undeniable. But more importantly, a single passport will help to break artificial barriers that continue to hamper social integration and development in Africa,” says Zounmenou. “However, it will not happen. At least not before 2063. Africa is not institutionally and politically ready for that.”

Practicalities

The concept of one African passport may be highly appealing in theory, but the challenge of getting 54 unique African states to agree on the implementation of this plan is tremendous. “There are countries that will exhibit their fake sovereignty to oppose or ignore the idea of a single passport,” says Zounmenou. “If we cannot implement a visa-free continent, how can we implement a single passport policy? Who are the sponsors and drivers of this policy?”

The late President Michael Sata of Zambia was vocal in his opposition to an Africa-wide passport, saying it would allow criminals to move more easily around the continent and escape prosecution. National security issues are a key sticking point in this discussion too, as a short time ago the East African Community (EAC) refused Somalia membership due to threats from al-Shabaab.

Other issues, such as the recent Nigerian tomato crisis and Ebola, make the prospect of visa-free, borderless travel far more difficult. Many countries also see economic incentives in retaining visas for fellow Africans as the foreign currency generated by them is a welcome addition to government coffers.

Migration policy

The introduction of a common African passport will undoubtedly be a drawn-out and complex journey, with migration and refugee policies needing to be reassessed before any implementation happens. “A country like South Africa, where there is a wide perception that foreigners are occupying job positions reserved to locals, may be reluctant to adopt such a passport,” according to Dr d’Orsi.

– See more at: AB