Excitement, praise, concern, and heaps of speculation have greeted the much-hyped launch of the common African e-passport at the Kigali African Union Summit on 17th July. To the majority of ordinary Africans, over a billion of them that is – the launch (and hullabaloo ) as of now, remains cloudy and calls for clarity. Indeed, how much do you know and what are your expectations? Here are some bitesize pointers…so far:
* The decision for a common passport was first agreed on in 2014.
* Some will also recall however, that under his ambitions for a United States of Africa – with its own common army, its own currency (which he intoned would be named, the Afro) – a common passport was also highly touted by the late Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi.
* The African passport according to the outgoing a AU Chair, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma: “is 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.”
*Member States will issue the African passport to their citizens within their own national policies, as and when they are ready, Dhlamini-Zuma said at the launch.
* The idea according to the AU – falls squarely within the framework of the continental body’s 50 year-policy framework Agenda 2063 and the common passport will facilitating free movement of African people, goods and services cross any African border: “Ensuring a crucial element of deepening continental integration and unity in the spirit of Pan-Africanism, African Renaissance and Agenda 2063”, so says the AU in an official statement;
* The concept of unrestricted movement of persons, goods and services across regions and the [African] continent however, is not new; it has been outlined in documents like the Lagos Plan of Action and the Abuja Treaty;
* Article 12 of the 1981 African Charter stipulates in part that: “Every individual shall have the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of a State provided he abides by the law”;
* Initially the passport will be issued only to AU Heads of State and Government; Ministers of Foreign Affairs; and the Permanent Representatives of AU Member States based at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
* Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Chad’s President Idriss Deby (pictured), were the first to be issued with the African Union passport at the Kigali summit on 17 July 2016;
* This symbolic issuance is expected to pave the way for the Member States to adopt and ratify the necessary Protocols and Legislation with the view to begin issuing the African passport to ordinary citizens;
* The rolled out to all and sundry, is ambitiously envisioned to be complete by 2018 ( Africa’s population is expected to reach 1.34 billion people by then)
* Currently, only 13 African countries from the 54-nation African Union offer Visa free or Visa on arrival facilities.
* At the January 2015 Executive Council meeting of the AU in Addis Ababa, all were urged to adopt necessary measures to ensure the issuance of Visas on arrival for citizens of AU Member States with the option to stay in a Member State for up to thirty (30) days.
* However, concerns raised with regards to security and the threat of terrorism and international crime, was also noted at the same meeting, and the need to develop parameters to deal with those concerns where discussed.
* The issue of security and terrorism has been raised over and over again in debates and analyses, since the launch of the African passport. It is yet clear how the AU will move this discussion forward.
* Although largely backed by almost all AU member-states, the issue of indiscriminate economic migration ( to stronger economies) is also up for discussion. Fears of increased xenophobic attacks, may not be farfetched either.
* And so is the issue of the short time frame to its completion – 2018 is in less than 24 months away – and as the new passports is biometric, that’s no cheap a venture. Perhaps due to cost, currently, out of the 54 African countries, only 13 offer biometric passports.
* Also on the debating table are those questioning how free movement of people and goods will be facilitated on a continent seriously encumbered by lack of infrastructure development such as good roads or train travel within Africa and poor intra-African air travel.