In recent weeks, news media in Africa have been speaking of the impending ‘Single African Passport’. Officially known as the African Union (AU) e-Passport, this electronic document will grant holders visa-free access to any of the 54 AU member states.
Besides its practicality, 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 believe the passport will help improve intra-Africa travel, trade, and development.
AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma described the single passport initiative as, “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 e-Passport is currently available only to a select group, which includes AU heads of states, foreign ministers, and permanent AU representatives based in the organization's Addis Ababa headquarters. Some AU officials and representatives will have their first chance to use the e-Passport in July, during the upcoming 27th AU Summit in Kigali, Rwanda.
According to the AU’s Agenda 2063, the organization plans to abolish all visa requirements for travel within the continent for all its citizens by 2018. This is an ambitious target unlikely to be met in the remaining two years; the AU has since been cited as saying that the new start date for visa-free African travel could be moved to 2020.
The single passport model is based on the European Union's Schengen Area — the group of European countries that abolished visa requirements for travel between them. Certain regions within Africa have already eliminated or relaxed their visa policies. The Seychelles does not require a visa for any visitors, from Africa or elsewhere. The East African Community, which includes Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, also did away with visa requirements for citizens visiting other member states.
If successful, the single African visa will realize a vision that has been decades in the making. As early as 1980, the Organization of African Unity called for policies that would promote free movement within African countries.