The African Union (AU) is set to launch an electronic passport (e-passport) that will grant holders visa-free access to all 54 member states.
In a statement released yesterday, the AU said the flagship of the e-passport project has the specific aim of facilitating free movement of persons, goods and services around the continent in order to foster intra-Africa trade, integration and socio-economic development.
The e-passports will first be issued to heads of state and senior government officials at the AU Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, later this month and the ambitious plan is to complete the roll-out to all African citizens by 2018.
According to the AU, the passport was a step towards the fulfillment of the continent’s aspirations as enshrined in Agenda 2063 action plan: to promote greater continental integration and forge a united Africa.
Currently, there are 13 African countries that don’t require African citizens to obtain visas ahead of their visit and the AU hopes that removing travel restrictions between countries will drive dramatic GDP and tourism growth on the continent.
AU director for political affairs, Dr Khabele Matlosa, says the organisation doesn’t believe that opening borders across the continent would lead to the likes of the immigration crisis currently being experienced in European countries.
“We have a problem now that young people are risking their lives to cross the Sahara Desert or travel on boats to Europe. If we open opportunities in Africa, we reduce that risk,
“Africa is a continent of migrants, so we are not as suspicious of refugees. This is a test of our Pan-Africanism, the doctrine which underpins the African Union’s existence. We are committed to this philosophy.”
The concept of unrestricted movement of persons, goods and services across regions and the continent is not new, as it had been outlined in documents such as the Lagos Plan of Action and the Abuja Treaty, an indication that the unhampered movement of citizens is critical for Africa’s development.
With the Abuja Treaty of 1991 in place, it wasn’t long before regional bodies, such as the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, came to adopt common passports.