In a bid to show solidarity and promote free movement of Africans within their region and other parts of the continent, African heads of states are to carry an African passport for the next African Union Summit to be hosted in Kigali, Rwanda, in July.
The heads of states will receive the African passport since the AU wants to popularise it as it is very symbolic and significant for the continent, as well as practical, because if one is carrying an African passport he/she should not be expected to apply for a visa, according to Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission.
“A few of us at the AU are already using that passport within Africa and it is very useful, but we want the heads of states to carry it when they are visiting African countries to make it official and known to others as well,” she said.
Africa’s attempt to address this situation has seen free movement show up in continental development strategy documents since the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action and the 1991 Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community (AEC), commonly known as the Abuja Treaty.
Automatic visas to other African countries
The chairperson also said that all African countries must grant a 30-day visa on arrival to all African passport holders. Ghana and a few other countries have already responded to that decision, “which we commend a lot”, said Dlamini-Zuma.
Abuja committed African states to “adopt, individually, at bilateral or regional levels, the necessary measures in order to achieve progressively the free movement of persons, and to ensure the enjoyment of the right of residence and the right of establishment by their nationals within the community””
The chairperson also said that all African countries must give a 30-day visa on arrival for all African passport holders, and Ghana and a few other countries have already responded to that decision, “which we commend a lot”.
“We also urge other countries to follow suit,” she said. “Countries have said that they are going back to look at the practicality of doing their immigration regulation, but there is a decision and it is up to all of us to hold our countries to that decision so that indeed Africans can move freely amongst other African countries.”
She stated that a lot of countries had that arrangement within their regions like in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and even the East African Community (EAC), but now was time to move beyond that to inter-regional so that people, not only in their region, but also beyond their region, could move freely.
Sharing her sentiment, Daniel Admassu, an entrepreneur who travels to other African countries, said that if this came about it would make ease of business a lot either.
“We have to submit a lot of paperwork, including a bank statement, and even then we have to wait for at least two weeks to get a visa in some embassies. That creates a gap between our travels and customers do not always understand,” he said.
The week-long occasion, the African Development Week, jointly organised by ECA and the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, has created a platform for discussion on a range of issues around Africa’s economy, regional integration, investment and related areas.
AU Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma says the continent must move away from the artificial separation of people. She was addressing delegates at the end of Africities Summit in Sandton, north of Johannesburg AU chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma says if Rwanda can do it – so can the entire African continent. “It’s also possible to do that … Rwanda has led the way. There’s no African who’s carrying a passport from any African country who needs to go and apply for a visa before they go to Rwanda – not anymore. You can get onto the plane now and go to Rwanda without any visa,” adds Dlamini-Zuma.
“And when you look at Agenda 2063 – everything that’s there impacts on local government. Whether is the skills revolution? I was looking at statistics – it’s shocking to see how many town planners we have. When we talk about skills revolution local government is very much impacted,” she says.
Even though Africa is the least urbanised continent – it is however urbanizing at a rapid rate.
Many people are coming into cities in search of a better life and this puts pressure on cities and municipalities to provide basic services.
What’s shocking however is that African countries continue import food at a high cost.
“We import more than $80-billion worth of food as a continent every year. President of Ghana [John Dramani Mahama] recently was saying if they produced five crops and were self-sufficient, as Ghana in those five crops which include oil, rice, sugar, and tomatoes which are common things used every day. He was saying if they were to be self-sufficient in those – Ghana alone would save $1.5-billion every year. That amount of money would be very useful at local government, in education in all sorts of areas that are critical for our development,” explains Dlamini-Zuma.
African Passport and its Opportunities Ahead
Generally speaking, this is a step in the right direction for a continent whose national borders were forced on them. The introduction of a single passport system would help solidify a common identity for all Africans who currently live in a continent which is home to 54 nations and 3,000 distinct ethnic groups.
Those that have long argued against the wisdom of keeping colonial borders will regard the move as a step towards breaking down the continent’s colonial legacy and establishing stability on the continent. National borders and ethnic tensions have been at the roof of much of the continents conflicts because disparate groups were lumped together under colonial flags.
Devoted pan-Africanists, who have been calling for continental unity since the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), will also see this as a positive move towards achieving pan-Africanism – the idea that all people of African origin first and foremost belong to Africa as a common homeland regardless of where they live or where they were born.
Established in 1963, the OAU which is a predecessor of the AU, was founded with a focus on continental unity in order to collaborate over areas of common interest. In the wave of colonialism, the overthrow of European colonizers in Africa became a central focus.
Whilst the overthrow of colonial powers has arguably been achieved, continental unity beyond the latter goal of ridding the continent of its colonial rule was largely seen a pipedream in practical terms. Early pan-Africanists such as Kwame Nkrumah, Gamel Nasser, and Julius Nyerere hoped for concerted efforts in other areas to be a central part of the organization’s undertakings.
The establishment of a common passport is therefore a concrete way in which the AU can carry forth the vision of early pan-Africanists who wanted to see a truly united Africa when they laid the foundation for the organisation.
In spite of its ideological aspirations, the establishment of a single passport is not just driven by a need to fulfil anti-colonial agendas nor lofty philosophical ideals ushered in by pan-Africanism. In practical terms, the establishment of a common passport will make it easier for Africans to travel within the continent; cross border traders to conduct business; employers to hire across borders, and Africans to migrate to different parts of the continent for economic purposes.
Therefore, there is a strong economic incentive to see this project through. Politically, it will have the potential to lay the foundation for the thousands of Africans that remains stateless or are in refugee camps to have some form of permanent and legal status on the continent. It also has a potential to include members of the Africa’s Diaspora who have long been seeking to obtain dual citizenship in Africa for decades.
The Challenges of a Common African Passport
Although the idea of a common passport is promising, the implementation of a common passport for the continent has its challenges. An AU passport would enable greater employment mobility for African employees. Simply put, it would enable the holder to seek employment without immigration restrictions.
This may present challenges for countries such as South Africa which has recently experienced xenophobic uprisings where poor black South Africans have been rising against poor black African immigrants and scapegoating them for their economic woes.
Ironically, while the rest of the continent is still recovering over the horror of these recent attacks, the announcement was made at the 25th AU Summit which was held in Johannesburg, South Africa. However, whether such deep migration issues on the continent will properly be addressed before the common passport’s implementation is unclear.
Eligibility for the common passport will also present a challenge. This area centres on issues of of citizenship and dual citizenship. Africa has a large share of individuals that have been rendered stateless or that hold refugee status in their respective countries. One wonders whether such individuals would be eligible for a common African passport if their citizenship is not recognised in the country of their birth or residence.
Currently, half of the nations in Africa recognise dual citizenship. That is, being a citizen of more than one country. The citizenship of members of the African Diaspora will need to be addressed.
Challenges over whether Africans from countries without dual citizenship who have been naturalised abroad and have lost citizenship in their home countries would be eligible for the common African passport with or without being citizens of their birth nation. To add to this, there is the additional question of the eligibility of their offspring who may have been born outside of the continent.
AU Commissioner for Political Affairs Dr. Aisha Abdullahi said on Sunday that Africa could soon become border less and the plan for a single African passport is in progress and so far, two countries – Rwanda and Mauritius – have implemented it.
“This would also ensure the free movement of people on the continent,”
“Our people will not have to carry a visa to gain access to other African states. There will be free trade of goods” Dr. Abdullahi said at the #Africities summit.
“We have identified flagship projects, for example, [the introduction] of an African passport to ensure that Africans can move freely to every African state,” Dr. Abdullahi reportedly said.
The proposal to implement a single passport for Africa is part of the AU’s 2063 Agenda. The project, which was agreed upon last year, also aims to improve intra-African trade and to ease the movement of domestic goods between member states.