• Sunday, June 23, 2024
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African Union e-passport to grant visa-free access to all Africans launches in July


Barring any last minute change, a common electronic passport that will grant visa-free access to all 54 members of the African Union (AU) will be unveiled at the AU summit in Kigali, Rwanda later this month.

The initiative which has the objective of facilitating free movement of persons, goods and services around the continent – in order to foster intra-African trade, integration and socio-economic development, will be issued to heads of states, Ministers of Foreign Affairs; and the Permanent Representatives of AU Member States based at the AU Headquarters in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, CNN reprts. The Union aims to distribute them to all African citizens by 2018

According to Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), the move was both symbolic and significant, 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.”

The passports is a step in fulfilment of the continent’s aspirations as enshrined in Agenda 2063 action plan, to promote greater continental integration and forge a united Africa. Over the years, free movement of persons and trade within the continent has been a longstanding priority among member states. It is with a view to attain that that the Abuja Treaty of 1991 was reached. With time, regional bodies such as the Ecowas Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have come to adopt common passports.

An AU passport may appear the most forward-looking in a series of efforts to create a common market spanning the continent, much like that in the European Union. It goes way back to 1963 when the Organisation of African Unity was founded.

At the moment, only 13 African countries have opened their borders to all African citizens without advance visas, with many placing severe restrictions on travel. The African Development Bank (AfDB) has often stressed the need for removing entrance barriers to support regional economic growth.

A statement from AU also reiterated this need, “Countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius, Rwanda, and Ghana have taken the lead in ensuring easier intra-Africa travel by relaxing visa restrictions and in some cases lifting visa requirements altogether. The scene seems to be set to realise the dream of visa-free travel for African citizens within their own continent by 2020.”

According to some analysts, issues around logistics may derail the project. The low penetration and adoption of technology in many countries were cited as examples. There are also concerns about the range of security risks it portends for most countries in the continent. Terrorists, human traffickers and smugglers, the analysts said, could take advantage of the new system.