This week, the African Union announced that heads of its member states will begin carrying an African passport in July 2016. According to the AU, introducing this continent-wide travel document will pave the way for the actualization of its 2063 Agenda for a “continent with seamless borders to help facilitates the free movement of Africa citizens.”
Since the AU first revealed plans for the passport in December 2015, its representatives and a growing army of supporters have widely and repeatedly explained its merits to win public trust and buy-in.
Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairperson of the African Union Commission, states:
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“A few of us at the AU are already using that passport within Africa and it is very useful, but we want the heads of states to carry it when they are visiting African countries to make it official and known to others as well.”
“Our people will not have to carry a visa to gain access to other African states. There will be free trade of goods,” stressed AU Commissioner for Political Affairs Dr. Aisha Abdullahi. She further disclosed that work on the implementation of the project is already ongoing in some African countries, adding that Rwanda and Mauritius are implemented a single African passport in their respective countries. East Africa is set to roll out a new e-passport for the region next year. Meanwhile, Ghana recently announced its new visa policy scheme, which is a very much in sync with the vision of a “seamless” border system.
The planned passport has sparked pockets of debate about its importance and relevance all over the continent. While some Africans are applauding it, others have reservations over its workability.
In Nigeria, a cross section of citizens who support the African passport seem to be convinced that it will be another unifying factor on a very large and diverse continent. One supporter, Prince Taslim Okunola, says:
“I believe it would work out well. Single passport cancel visa entry. ECOWAS uses a single passport since you don’t need a visa to visit any ECOWAS country like Ghana.”
For the opposition, fears stem from the likelihood of poor implementation, which is a regular feature in governance in Africa. Mr. Mubo Oladigun, a financial expert based in Nigeria, noted that although the proposal is a welcome development, it could face lots of challenges in its implementation:
“One of such challenges is the differences in political systems and culture among African countries. I advise African leaders to jettison the idea and concentrate on delivering on good governance.”
Lending credence to Oladigun’s advise, Mr Babatunde Johnson, a banker, noted that African leaders should rather concern themselves with the best way to maximise the human and material potential on the continent to ensure its development.
He cautioned that African leaders should not be in a hurry to copy every policy adopted by Europe, adding that if the project worked in Europe, that did not imply it would succeed in Africa given differences in the socio-cultural makeup of the two continents.