Launch of single passport for the African Union

Signal of change / Launch of single passport for the African Union

By Anna Simpson / 18 Aug 2016

A first step has been taken towards a single passport for African Union (AU) citizens, which will allow them to travel across the continent without visas.

At the 27th African Union Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, in July, the first passports were presented to Chadian President Idriss Déby and the Rwandan leader Paul Kagame, granting them visa-free access to all 54 AU member states.

Initially, the passports are only being made available to diplomats and state or government officials, but the goal is that, by end-2018, all AU citizens will be able to apply. (To give a sense of the scale of this, the AU has a population of 1.05 billion, dwarfing the 418 million of the EU Schengen Area, the only other regional passport zone).

It is now up to each country to issue the passports according to its national regulations, in partnership with the African Union. The Seychelles, Rwanda, Ghana and Mauritius have taken a lead, beginning with lifting visa requirements.

So what?

This aim of the single passport is to ease the movement of people and so stimulate trade, as part of the African Union’s Agenda 2063. This Agenda, set in 2015, includes seven aspirations, with the first two towards: “A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development” and “An integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance”.

According to the Africa Development Bank, only 13 out of 55 countries in Africa currently allow all Africans to enter without a visa, or to get one on arrival. This is thought to be a factor in low levels of trade within the continent. Greater movement of people between countries should facilitate the sharing of ideas and skills across the continent, stimulating innovation. It is also likely to boost tourism, creating jobs and driving growth.

This is particularly important for Africa’s youth. Africa currently has the youngest population in the world, with 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 – and this figure is expected to double by 2045, according to the 2012 African Economic Outlook report prepared by experts from the African Development Bank (AfDB), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the industrialised countries’ Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), among others. 

Beyond economic development, greater movement and sharing could pave the way for more pre-competitive and transboundary collaboration, building resilience in the face of climate shocks, such as food shortages and drought. Might it also support a pan-African response to asylum?

The move towards Africa’s increasing integration offers a striking counterpoint to the potential disintegration of Europe, following Brexit.

But how many people will actually be able to take advantage of this? The price of acquiring a passport can be prohibitive – while entrenched problems (poverty, discrimination, persecution, violence) restrict freedom of movement. Will the single passport exacerbate inequalities, or might it support ways towards greater social cohesion?

Image: Paul Saad / Flickr

Sources

BBC Africa, 19 July 2016 Should Africa have a single passport?

AFDB Africa Visa Openness Report 2016

Africa Renewal, May 2013 Africa’s youth: a “ticking time bomb” or an opportunity?

27th AU Summit press release African Union Passport Launched

Daily Trust, 29 July 2016 Africa: Single African Passport

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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