Cape Town - The African Union (AU) has announced they will be launching an electronic passport, or e-passport, at the next AU Summit tabled to take place in Kigali, Rwanda, in July 2016.
This flagship project, first agreed upon in 2014, "falls squarely within the framework of Africa’s Agenda 2063 and has the specific aim of facilitating free movement of persons, goods and services around the continent," the AU said in an official statement in June this year.
This in order to foster intra-Africa trade, integration and socio-economic development, the union says.
The Chairperson of the AU Commission, South Africa's Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, has described this initiative as both symbolic and significant, calling it 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.”
The move also fits well into the African Development Bank's (ADB) plans to abolish visa requirements for all Africans by 2018 - a move which would aid business and overall travel on the African continent.
The ADB launched the first Africa Visa Openness Index in May this year, which showed that the African continent remains largely closed off for African travellers - a fatal but easily avoided roadblock for business travel on the continent.
Moono Mupotola for Regional Integration and Trade at the African Development Bank said at the time that in order for Africans to capitalise on this growth and potential, "Africa’s leaders and policymakers have to move freely in support of Agenda 2063’s call to abolish visa requirements for all Africans by 2018,"
Forum of Immigration Practitioners of South Africa (FIPSA) chairperson Gershon Mosiane, however, says the project is a 'pie in the sky', and would be a challenge to implement across the continent.
Speaking to CapeTalk on Monday, 4 July, Mosiane said the AU's e-passport ambitions might be admirable, but that "security threats like terrorism" have made implementing the passport more complicated.
"Would we in South Africa allow someone with a terrorist history be allowed to come into the country" using the all-access e-passport, Mosiane asked.
You can listen to the full interview with Gershon Mosiane about the AU e-passports' roll-out here:
Nonetheless, the AU Commission will launch the e-passport at the AU Summit in Rwanda soon.
The first group of beneficiaries will include AU Heads of State and Government, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Representatives of AU Member States based at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The AU e-Passports will be issued to them in July 2016, at the 27th AU Summit in Kigali. In order for all the recipients to acquire the passports, they are "strongly encouraged to comply with the needed paperwork required to accelerate the processing lead time," the AU warned.
"Issuance of the AU e-passport, is expected to pave the way for the Member States to adopt and ratify the necessary Protocols and Legislation with the view to begin issuing the much expected African passport," the official statement reads.
The concept of unrestricted movement of persons, goods and services across regions and the continent is not a new one. And countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius, Rwanda, and Ghana have taken the lead in ensuring easier intra-Africa travel by relaxing visa restrictions and in some cases lifting visa requirements altogether.
South Africa currently sits in the 35th position on the Africa Visa Openness Index, and has been slow to adopt easy visa systems for all travellers.
SA's implementation of new visa regulations for minors also saw negative effects on visitor numbers to the country.
But early in 2016, significant changes was made visa policies - especially for African travellers.
SA's Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba in January this year approved the granting of 10-year multiple entry visas to frequent business and academic travellers from Africa.
More recently, discussions held between Kenya's Joseph Nkaissery and Gigaba also promised for travel regulations to be eased between the two countries' borders.
One of the main adjustments to the visa regulations between SA and Kenya will see an issuing of a three-year multiple entry visa for frequent travellers. These visa service fees have also been decreased by more than R300.
Because of this and other progress made to ease travel in Africa, "the scene seems to be set to realise the dream of visa-free travel for African citizens within their own continent by 2020," the AU says.
"Aspirations 2 and 7 of Agenda 2063, respectively, envision an Africa that is ‘integrated’ and ‘united’, and the introduction of the Common African Passport as an effort towards realising integration and unity on the continent."
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