The African Passport Introduction!

By Tahirah Wiley

The African Union is considering launching a passport that will grant visa-free access to all 54 member states. The union aims to distribute them to all African citizens by 2018-2020. One of the passports issued by the African Union for officials and people who travel a lot on business, and the other by individual countries for everyone else.  Many hope that the e-passports are the first steps to mobility for Africans on the continent. It is also hoped to boost trade economic growth opportunities.

The first batches of passports, which are electronic, were unveiled at the AU summit in Kigali, Rwanda. They were issued to heads of state and senior officials at that time. The first recipients were chairperson of the African Union Idris Deby and Rwandan President Paul Kagame. “We’ve been overwhelmed by requests and enquiries of other ministers, officials, and African citizens to share in this privilege of holding an African passport,” Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairperson of the African Union Commission says, according to The New Times.

The question still remains whether this will make it easier for travel among Africans. Many countries have more flights to London or Paris than with other countries on the continent. For example, there are very few flights between Abuja and Dakar - two major West African capitals - and passengers sometimes have to travel via Nairobi or Addis Ababa in East Africa, or even Europe. Also, millions of Africans are undocumented, and simply won’t be able to get a passport. This is a result of many issues in the countries themselves, including civil unrest, and nomadic lives.

There are strict visa requirements and high-priced airfare still remain as obstacles for the African Union to realize its vision for “a strong, prosperous and integrated Africa,” though countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius, Rwanda, and Ghana have taken lead in easing their visa requirements. Only 13 African states are currently open to all African citizens.