Friday, 15 July 2016

The common passport and Africa’s identity By OSCAR KIMANUKA

The ongoing AU Summit in Kigali is set to unveil a common African passport, which would mean that every African would be eligible for the same centralised passport affirming to the continent of Africa as their point of origin.

Just as the outgoing Chairperson of African Union Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma asserted, a common passport is a powerful symbol of unity across Africa – and simultaneously a step toward connecting African countries economically and politically.

The introduction of a single passport system would help solidify a common identity for all Africans.

A common passport will make it easier for Africans to travel within the continent; cross border traders to conduct business; employers to hire across borders, and Africans to migrate to different parts of the continent for economic purposes. It will improve intra-African trade and will go a long way in easing the movement of domestic goods and services between member states.

Breaking the colonial boundaries has been part of African Union’s 2063 Agenda for “a continent with seamless borders,’’  a flagship project agreed upon in 2014, and has the specific aim of facilitating free movement of people around the continent. It was also set to establish a free trade deal across the continent by 2017.

The Abuja Treaty, for instance, committed African states to adopt, individually, at bilateral or regional level, the necessary measures in order to achieve progressively the free movement of persons and to ensure the employment of rights of residents and the right of establishment by their nationals within the community, a practical example of this success being the East African Community.

The single passport is a positive move towards achievement of Pan-Africanism, the idea that all people of African origin, first and foremost, belong to Africa as a common homeland regardless of where they live or where they were born.

It lays a foundation for millions of Africans who have remained stateless or are in refugee camps to have some forms of permanent and legal status on the continent. It has the potential to include members of the Diaspora who have long been seeking to obtain dual citizenship in Africa for decades.

This will mean that Africans from countries without dual citizenship who have been naturalized abroad and have lost citizenship in their own home countries would be eligible for the common African passport with or without being citizens of their nations of birth.

This will undoubtedly allow them to trace their origins and resettle in their homeland, something which has not been easy. It will create a strong, prosperous and integrated Africa, driven by its own citizens and capable of taking its rightful place irrespective of where they are.

On another note, travelling in Africa has all along been difficult for the African people. They require visas for over half of the countries on the continent. With exception of a few like Rwanda Seychelles, and Mauritius which allow fellow Africans to enter without Visa or provide visas on arrival, the rest of the countries have made it hell on earth for our own African people to enter their borders.

This is quite unfortunate when nationals of other countries outside Africa can travel to the same African states without Visas. Therefore, it will be of great importance if the common passport would mean not just to carry a visa to gain access to other African states but totally abolishing visa requirements for all African citizens in all African countries.

The African passport digitization and incorporation of biometric security, will make it fully compliant with international best practices, and hopefully will be accepted at border controls all over the world.

Those African countries whose passports have not integrated such features making them have difficulty travelling to certain destinations will then benefit greatly.

However, with all the goodies that come along with the common African passport, there are underlying issues that will definitely arise. First and foremost, the recent Brexit is a reminder of the challenges inherent in a shared political and economic space.

The debates over immigration and national identity that led to Brexit may be some of the things that would crop up in with the coming of the common African passport.

This is because, to some extent, there will be attack on sovereignty, nationhood and self-government as the continent and its peoples would be almost viewed as one.

Critics may also cite the emergence of insurgents and volatile situations in some of the African states. For instance, the Boko Haram, Al-shabaab and other extremists would have an opportunity to move and cause further havoc and mayhem within the continent which already suffers from security challenges.

A situation like South Sudan, which is yet again on the brink of a civil war, will be very challenging to address when Africa becomes borderless, among others.

In conclusion, an African passport is an exciting prospect that can spur growth and development and improve living standards of the African people. However, it must be approached with cautious optimism.

The African Union must ensure it drafts thoughtful regulations to ensure that the single African passport serves its intended purposes.

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