Single African passport: A question of political will

By Aimable Twahirwa

The launch of the first ever Common Africa Passport on the sideline of 27th African Union (AU) summit in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, means real challenges for African governments to implement the ambitious continental unity agenda, since the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in May, 1963, analyst say.

The summit is expected to discuss mainly strategies to achieve women’s human rights, but the agenda also includes pushing forward AU’s Agenda 2063 that focuses mainly on key priorities including the African passport, to be given in the first instance to heads of state and governments, foreign ministers and permanent representatives of the Member States of the AU at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

With current efforts dedicated to implement this initiative, some analysts believe that it is important not only to focus on pan-Africanism, a concept that has for long become a widespread slogan, but also for African states to go beyond political will and adopt concrete measures.

The existing visa policies and regimes at some country levels have for so long made it difficult for people to travel across the continent compared to their overseas passport holders. However, the situation in many African countries has been hampered by some factors including bad governance and porous borders, according to analysts.

In a move to achieve this political commitment dedicated to ensure free movement of people, some analysts also believe that it is essential that these efforts should complement each other.

Currently, different actors including business operators, civil society and decision makers continue to question what role the “Single African passport” could have in the real movement of people, but the answer still lies in the commitments that member states have themselves made to promote this continental integration with the main focus to regional integration initiatives.

But the Chairperson of the African Union (AU), Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma thinks that the response of African citizens on the talk of an African passport has also been overwhelming.

“The African passport will build on the success achieved by the trading blocs and help to achieve the dream of free movement of Africans across the continent,” she said.

This is because official reports indicate that Africans who need visas to travel to 55 per cent of other African countries, can get visas on arrival in only 25 per cent of other countries and don’t need a visa to travel to just 20 per cent of other countries on the continent.

Drawing on this trend, the African Development Bank (AfDB) indicates in its latest Africa Visa Openness Index report that, only 13 African countries are currently offering liberal access to other Africans.

The Africa Visa Openness Index measures how open African countries are when it comes to visas by looking at what they ask of citizens from other countries in Africa when they travel.

But the public are convinced that there is also a pressing need for governments’ structure and policies at respective national levels to integrate this new approach.

Experts also emphasise the need for creating appropriate immigration rules and visa regimes at each country level in a move to allow people to travel to other African country without a visa.

“Visa openness is a vital step forward towards a more integrated Africa. There are huge potential gains to be had for countries and regions across Africa in having more visa-open policies for other Africans,” the AfDB report said.

Experts are convinced that the new commitment to introduce African passport could prompt some AU member states to renegotiate their relationship with each other in other areas.