Visa-free “Africa Passport”: Everything you need to know

Outgoing African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has managed to tick at least two big items off the to-do list she had in her term at the helm of the continental body.

In her last opening speech at the AU’s heads of state on Sunday, she said the one item the AU managed to tick off its “email list” was the issue of the body funding itself.

The other was the free movement of people and trade on the continent, which came a step closer to being realized with the launching of the concept of the African passport at the summit.

The AU is 76% funded by donors, “or what we euphemistically call partners”, Dlamini-Zuma said.

She said the new model of requiring member states to contribute 0.2% of their import levies to the body would bring it a “step closer to dignity”.

At the opening ceremony Dlamini-Zuma also handed over the new African passport to AU chairperson, Chad president Idriss Déby, who kissed the passport with a giggling Dlamini-Zuma looking on.

However, the launch of the passport was mostly symbolic, and member states were tasked to go back and work out the logistics of producing these.

This is what you need to know about the new passports, and what they mean for Africa.

Why do we need the passport?

The defining concept surrounding the passport is to increase trade relations between African nations, where there are vast resources, but very little trade between countries.

Trade amongst African nations stands at only 13% according to the AU, compared to an intra-Europe trade ranging between 43% and 83%.

The passport also aims to facilitate the free movement of Africans, who the AU believes are still being separated by colonial-era borders.

Where can I go with the passport?

The passport will give open, visa-free access to all 54 member nations of the African Union. This includes South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Comoros, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius and many other countries.

Who can get the passport?

The passport is initially only going to be processed for AU dignitaries and officials, though the ultimate aim is for it to be made available for all Africans.

However, this is also not entirely true. The passport will only be made available for citizens of the AU’s member states, of which there are currently 54. Countries such as Zanzibar and Morocco are not included.

When can I get the passport?

Even though the passport has officially “launched”, it will be quite some time before ordinary citizens will be able to get their hands on one.

The policy guiding the passport’s release – Agenda 2063 – targets a full roll-out to be complete by 2018 – however, analysts have pointed out that the deadline is extremely optimistic, considering the lack of infrastructure and technical skills in many member nations.

More realistically, the passports won’t be fully and freely available until after 2020.

Currently, 13 African countries in the AU offer visas on arrival, including Rwanda, Mauritius and more recently Ghana. This system is a precursor to the open “Africa Passport”, and is expected to be applied by more African nations.

Is South Africa part of all of this?

As one of the key member of the African Union, South Africa will be one of the countries where the system will work.

The country has already developed and launched a biometric system – which the Africa Passort will use – but there have been no timelines given on when the passport will launch locally.

South Africa still has visa demands, which are often described as onerous and confusing for foreigners seeking entry.

However, the policy and its execution is one of the feathers in Dlamini-Zuma’s cap, and as a South African chair, the AU will be looking at the country to lead on the project.

What are some of the problems?

The passport has faced criticism, and faces more than a few hurdles: for one, millions of Africans are undocumented, and simply won’t be able to get a passport. This is a result of may issues in the countries themselves, including civil unrest, and nomadic lifestyles.

Another factor is that many African nations are unable to develop the biometric systems necessary for the electronic passport.

Some analysts have also raised concerns over disproportionate access – where more developed markets such as South Africa and Egypt would see an influx of people from other countries, bringing massive social, economic and political pressures.

Locally, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world and a history of xenophobic attack, critics have highlighted that an open-border policy in South Africa could be disastrous.

Reporting with News24

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Visa-free “Africa Passport”: Everything you need to know