The African Union has launched a common passport that will grant visa-free access among all 54 member states.
At present, only 13 African States are open to all African citizens without advance visas, with many placing severe restrictions on travel.
A recent report from the African Development Bank advised that easing entrance requirements would support economic growth, citing the case of Rwanda which saw GDP and tourism revenues climb after abolishing visas.
Former Chairperson of the African Union Commission Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma presented the first AU passports to Chad President Idriss Deby Itno who is outgoing chairperson of the AU and President Paul Kagame of the Republic of Rwanda.
“The first of the electronic passports were unveiled at the AU summit in Kigali, Rwanda, where they were issued to heads of state and senior officials. The Union aims to distribute them to all African citizens by 2020,” read part of a statement on the AU website.
“The Commission will provide technical support to member States to enable them to produce and issue the African Passport to their citizens. The Commission has to put in place an implementation roadmap for the development of a Protocol on the Free Movement of persons in Africa by January 2018, which should come into immediate effect in Member States, in line with the continental transformation framework, Agenda 2063.”
The website indicates that the launch of the AU Passport was greeted with “overwhelming enthusiasm.”
“The Assembly also decided to encourage all member States to adopt the African Passport and to work closely with the AU Commission to facilitate the processes towards its issuance at the national level, based on international and continental policy provisions,” read the statement.
“The passports represent a key plank of the Agenda 2063 action plan, which emphasises the need for greater continental integration, drawing on the popular vision of Pan-African unity. Freedom of movement has been a longstanding priority among member states, as enshrined in previous agreements such as the 1991 Abuja Treaty, common passports have already been adopted for several regions such as the Economic Community of West African States.”
President Idriss Deby said he felt like a true son of Africa after receiving the passport.
He stressed the importance of fast tracking integration on the continent to achieve socio-economic growth for the wellbeing of the African citizens.
The CNN quotes AU director for Political Affairs Dr Khabele Matlosa saying he believes opening borders will have a profound effect for workers at the lower end of the scale.
He said: “We have a problem now that young people are risking their lives to cross the Sahara Desert or travel on boats to Europe,” said Dr Matlosa. “If we open opportunities in Africa we reduce that risk.”
The Director has been studying the example of Europe, but believes a closer African Union will not be so threatened by concerns about immigration or loss of sovereignty.
“Africa is a continent of migrants so we are not as suspicious of refugees,” he said.
“This is a test of our Pan-Africanism, the doctrine which underpins the African Union’s existence. We are committed to this philosophy.”
It was said at the recent AU summit that common passports will support international trade within the continent, reducing the widespread dependence on Western goods, and offer new opportunities to many citizens.
The event at the Kigali Convention Centre took place in the presence of the Heads of State of the AU, the deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), the Palestinian President, the AU Commissioners, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Members of the Permanent Representative Committee (PRC), officials of the AUC, Heads of AU Organs, the Media and invited guests.