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African Unity: AU’s pan-African passport strikes the right note

At a time when Britain’s exit from the European Union, or Brexit, has forced the international community to reassess globalisation and transnational cooperation, it’s heartening to note that Africa is actually taking decisive steps towards greater integration among its 54 countries.


At the African Union (AU) summit in July in Kigali, Rwanda, the first copies of a pan-African passport were unveiled. For now the AU will issue the new biometric or electronic passport only to African heads of state, foreign ministers and diplomats accredited by the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It will bear the AU’s name and that of the issuing country.

The idea is that African governments will roll out the pan-African passports for their citizens by 2018. While challenges remain – many African countries currently don’t have the infrastructure to manage or issue biometric passports – the move, nonetheless, is a significant one that provides a fillip to the idea of pan-Africanism.

And greater integration between African countries engendering free moment of goods and people on a common passport will certainly provide a huge boost to the continent’s economy. For despite shared colonial experiences forming a strong bond among African countries, the latter still face significant hurdles in the process of integration. This is exemplified by the fact that at present only 13 out of 54 countries offer visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to Africans.

Facilitating a liberalised cross-continent travel system would help create one consolidated African market to the benefit of all. African countries need to pool together their resources if they are to get out of their donor-dependency status. It’s noteworthy that intra-Africa trade costs around 50% higher than intra-regional trade in East Asia. Imagine the economic benefits if barriers to easy movement of goods and people are dismantled within Africa. For example, Rwanda has seen significant rises in GDP and tourism revenues after instituting a visa-on-arrival policy.

There’s no denying the fact that Africa will be the source of the next big growth push for the global economy. The continent has one of the fastest growing middle classes, abundant natural resources and a relatively young population. Yet, it faces significant challenges in terms of poverty, corruption and backwardness. In fact, these drawbacks have been consistently exploited by extremist groups on the continent to further their radical agenda. And given the rise of transnational Islamist terrorism, the threat from extremism is far greater today for Africa.

Against this backdrop, it’s imperative that Africa fights poverty on a war footing relying on its own strength. And for this it needs to push forward continental integration. In that sense, the AU pan-African passport is a step in the right direction.

Jimirasire

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