The African Union is set to launch a common passport that will grant its holders visa free travel to all 54 member countries under the umbrella Pan-African organisation. The new electronic African Union passports would be unveiled in what would be a week-long historic summit of the AU, scheduled to hold later this month in Kigali, Rwanda.
At the summit, the new passports would first be issued to AU heads of governments, foreign affairs ministers and permanent representatives of the AU at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The AU says it plans to get the new passports across to every African citizen by the end of 2018.
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A statement from the AU said the new passport regime represents a crucial step towards the fulfillment of the continent’s aspirations as enshrined in Agenda 2063 action plan which seeks among other things, to promote greater integration of the countries in Africa while realising the vision of Pan-African unity of the founding fathers of the AU.
The idea of an Africa “without borders” that permits the free movement of people, products and services is not altogether new. Previous attempts at brokering the unrestricted movement around the continent as outlined in documents like the Lagos Plan of Action and the Abuja Treaty of 1991 had failed to gather enough steam until now.
The free movement of persons within Africa is expected to benefit the entire continent socio-economically, strengthen cross-border trade and investment, create new opportunities while simplifying basic travel arrangements for business or leisure. Although common passport regimes have already been adopted within Africa by a number of regions or economic blocks like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), this is the first common passport that encompasses the whole of Africa.
Already, countries like Ghana, Mauritius and Rwanda have eased travel visa and entry requirements for nationals from other African countries. Altogether only 13 out of the 54 member countries of the AU currently allow African nationals to visit without advance visa arrangements.
Ironically an American green card holder can visit more African countries (20 in all) without a pre-existing visa arrangement than an African national from a fellow AU member country. All of that is about to change.