By the end of this decade, citizens of African nations expect to be recipients of a new travel document that will allow them to move freely across the Continent and without the bureaucratic process of applying for entry visas—a move that is in stark contrast to the Brexit referendum, which could see the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and restricting the free movement of people across borders.
In 2016, as the presidents of Chad and Rwanda met in Kigali for an African Union summit, they held up valid pan-African passports that will allow them to enter all African nations. This summit was momentous because African Union meetings have been historically criticized for being all talk and no action. Resolutions are passed and agreements are executed, but implementation tends to fizzle due to bureaucratic maelstroms; however, this does not seem to be the case with the pan-African passport, which is currently being issued to top level officials and diplomats who are members of the African Union. These early passport holders will test the electronic and biometric features of these travel documents before they are issued to the citizenry.
As of 2017, the Republic of Ghana is one of the leaders of this new era in African travel and diplomacy. According to the African Development Bank, only 13 of the 55 nations that make up the Union have a liberal visa policy. The remaining 41 nations have various levels of red tape and colonial-era difficulties that do not facilitate business, trade or cross-border employment.
Setting a Very Important Example
This “One Africa” movement to create a travel scheme similar to the Schengen Agreement of free movement in the European Union could not come at a better time. The African Union is very serious and proactive about this idea despite doubts coming from South African political analysts in Pretoria. International blocs such as the United Nations are very supportive of One Africa, and they base their support on the example that the African Union is setting at the same time the Brexit debate rages in the UK, while United States President Donald Trump keeps issuing travel bans and spewing anti-immigrant rhetoric.
The World Trade Organization believes that seamless pan-African policies that strengthen the African Union will help towards nurturing development. To this effect, the WTO and the UN cite Rwanda, Mauritius and the Republic of Seychelles as examples of liberal visa policies that are really working. Rwanda, specifically, is currently ranked as one of the top nations for doing business on the Continent. African leaders know what they are up against in terms of pushing this initiative: loads of skepticism and tough barriers in terms of technology, standing legislation and even xenophobia. These officials are pushing ahead despite these realities, and they know that they are creating momentum with actions such as displaying new passports at the African Union summit.
There is a high probability of pan-African passports being impractical, but the fact that the Union is running on as many cylinders as it can fire is worthy of praise as the US White House scrambles to allocate funding to build a quixotically ridiculous border wall. In the end, the UN believes that the One Africa policy will prosper as long as the people of Africa are able to democratically express a desire for unity.