African head of states who attended the African Union Summit in July 2016 were among the first along with foreign ministers and diplomats to be issued with the electronic African Union passport. This passport is intended to ease movement across the continent to aid trade and boost tourism.
This year, the continent is getting closer to the creation of this single passport. At the AU Summit to be held in February, the AU Commission is presenting details on the design of the passport and how it will be produced and issued.
This move to introduce a single passport follows initiatives taken to introduce a free trade agreement and single air market. A big benefit with the introduction of this passport would be ease of movement. As it stands, citizens of African states hold some of the weakest passports in the world. According to the 2018 Passport Index which ranks states according to the number of the countries citizens can enter without a visa, those that can enter with a visa on arrival and those that require a visa, of the top 30 countries with the weakest passports in the world, 16 are African. This includes Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Nigeria. Within Africa itself movement remains difficult. Most citizens from African states need visas to go to over half of the continents states. Worse still citizens from Burundi and South Sudan for example require visa’s to go to over 40 countries.
As of November 2016, Seychelles was the only country in Africa that completely abolished visa requirements for all African countries. In comparison to other states, Namibia and Zimbabwe also made significant changes. Zimbabwe abolished visa requirements for citizens from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Namibia abolished visa requirements for those that hold diplomatic and other official passports from AU member states.
For those that support a more integrated Africa, these existing restrictions to movement hinder Africa from being “one” and take away from the continents Agenda 2063 which is the framework for long term economic transformation. This camp believes that visa free movement will promote trade and investment among states which will then facilitate business and create employment opportunities. When it comes to tourism, the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) highlights that the ease of facilitation of tourist visas can increase the number the tourists that visit a country which then increases income. In Rwanda, for example, the abolishment of work permits for East African Community (EAC) citizens increased the country’s trade with Kenya and Uganda by at least 50 %.
Africans who are sceptical about this move fear that it may breed security threats such as terrorists being able to freely travel across the continent, there may be higher health risks due to diseases being transmitted easier across borders and migration and employment concerns may arise as the possibility of people overstaying during their visit is higher.
With the introduction of the passport in its final stages, the continents states are clearly pushing for further integration. Whether this will succeed and benefit economic growth as intended remains to be seen. With the example of the United Kingdom exiting the European Union which included free movement, it is clear that depending on socio-economic circumstances, states and their citizens can begin to blame negative circumstances on immigration. For the African continent one can only hope that this move leads to the intended positive outcomes.
Featured image | 17th Ordinary African Union Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea | Embassy of Equitorial Guinea | Flickr
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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