Arusha — Issuance of international passports for East African Community (EAC) has been re-scheduled to early next year, the same time the African Union also intends to release its travel document.
The EAC six partner states, it was revealed at the just ended 35th EAC Council of Ministers' meeting here, have been directed to start issuing the new East African machine readable Electronic- Passports by January 31, 2018 after preparedness of each partner state was considered.
The council directives come on the backdrop of the 17th Ordinary Summit of the EAC Heads of State that directed the partner states to issue the new EA e-Passport by January 1, 2017 and execute the phase out programme for the current machine readable East African and National Passports between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2018.
According to the 35th EAC Council of Ministers' official report, Burundi reported that through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement, the country had completed the process of procuring the EA e-Passport booklets and was ready to issue the document by April 3, 2017.
Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda reported to start issuing the New International EA e-passport not later than April 2017 while Tanzania will be ready to issue the East African e-Passport by January 1, 2018.
The e-Passport is expected to boost free movement of people across the East African region and facilitate implementation of the Common Market protocol, which guarantees the right to move between countries in East Africa.
The EAC e-Passport will have diplomatic, service and ordinary categories, different from the current machine readable passports issued by the partner states. It will be valid for up 10 years while the diplomatic passport and service passport will be valid according to the holder's specific term of the service.
The standard international e-Passport will have a chip that holds the same information as printed on the passport's data page, the holder's name, date of birth and other biographic information. It will also contain a biometric identifier and have a digital photograph of the holder as well as security features to prevent unauthorised reading or "scanning" of stored data.
The new EAC travel document will come in red, green and sky blue -- the colours of the EAC flag -- but with text and national emblems, in gold to complete its face. The colour of the passport will depend on categories.
The EAC diplomats will carry the red passport, while officials and ordinary citizens will have green and sky blue, respectively. The outer front cover will have the 'East African Community' inscription in gold on top and below the name of the issuing partner states will be pasted.
But, the recent African Union (AU) summit in Kampala floated its own idea of having the AU passport, which will be a hybrid travel document serving as VISA to all the 55 countries on the continent. Officially known as the African Union (AU) e-Passport, the electronic document will grant holders the visa-free access to any of the 55 AU member states.
The e-Passport has symbolic importance too. It is 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.
The AU, according to an official release from Addis Ababa, plans to abolish visa requirements for all African citizens in all African countries by 2018, in line with the AU Agenda 2063.
The AU has been citing 2020 as the new start date for the proposed visa- free African travel.