The African Union (AU) is preparing to launch ePassports at this year’s AU Summit, set to take place in Rwanda in July 2016.
According to the AU, this flagship project, first agreed on in 2014, falls within the framework of Africa’s Agenda 2063 and has the specific aim of facilitating the free movement of people, goods and services around the continent in order to foster intra-Africa trade, integration and socio-economic development.
The chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, has described this initiative as both symbolic and significant, calling it:
“A steady step towards 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.”
Aspirations 2 and 7 of Agenda 2063, respectively, envision an Africa that is integrated and united, and the introduction of the common African passport is an effort towards realizing integration and unity on the continent.
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 ePassports will be issued to them in July 2016, at the 27th AU Summit.
The AU is a major continental union, consisting of 54 countries in Africa. Its largest member in terms of population is Nigeria with an estimated 154.7 million people, followed by Ethiopia at 96 million people. In total, its population is estimated at over 1 billion.
The AU says: “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. The scene seems to be set to realize the dream of visa-free travel for African citizens within their own continent by 2020.”
Issuance of the AU ePassport is expected to pave the way for member states to adopt and ratify the necessary protocols and legislation with the view to begin issuing the much expected African passport.