23 June 2016

Africa: What You Need to Know About the Single African Passport

Photo: CCTV Africa
The new East African e-passport.

News of the single African passport has dominated headlines in recent weeks. But what exactly is it? And, more importantly, who can use it? AkilahNet did some investigating and created a handy guide. Here's what you need to know.

So what is it?

Officially known as the African Union (AU) e-Passport, this electronic document grants holders visa-free access to any of the 54 AU member states. The e-Passport has symbolic importance too. It's seen as a key step toward the AU's vision of a "continent with seamless borders". Supporters hope the visa will improve intra-Africa travel, trade, and development.

When will it launch?

Select AU officials and representatives will have the chance to use the e-Passport this July during the 27th AU Summit in Kigali.

Who can get one?

Currently, it's only available to a select group, which includes AU heads of states, foreign ministers, and permanent AU representatives based in the organization's Addis Ababa headquarters.

If I can't get one, what's the big deal?

It a big deal because the AU has plans to abolish visa requirements "for all African citizens in all African countries by 2018," according to the AU's Agenda 2063.

That's only two years away, and lately the AU has been citing 2020 as the new start date for visa-free African travel. In any case, the launch of the e-Passport is seen as important step toward that goal. "The scene seems to be set to realize the dream of visa-free travel for African citizens within their own continent by 2020," reads an AU press release.

Has anything like this been done before?

Yep. The single passport model is based on the European Union's Schengen Area, a group of 26 European countries that abolished visa requirements for travel between them.

Certain regions within Africa have also eliminated or relaxed their visa policies. The Seychelles does not require a visa for any visitors, from Africa or elsewhere. The East African Community, which includes Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, did away with visa requirements for citizens visiting other member states.

Sounds great. Any drawbacks?

Critics say a visa-less Africa would allow terrorists to travel more easily between countries. Or that it could increase competition for jobs, especially in smaller countries. The revenue from visa fees has also become an important source of income for embassies, who worry that eliminating the requirement will make it hard to keep the doors open and the lights on.

Anything else?

If successful, the single African visa will realize a vision that has been decades in the making. As early as 1980, the Organization of African Unity called for policies that would promote free movement within African countries.

AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma described the single visa initiative as a "steady step toward the objective of creating a strong, prosperous and integrated Africa, driven by its own citizens and capable of taking its rightful place on the world stage."

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