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AU Passport A Work in Progress

  • Nick Long

Heads of state and government pose during a photo call before the official opening of the 27th African Union (AU) Summit in Kigali on July 17, 2016.

Heads of state and government pose during a photo call before the official opening of the 27th African Union (AU) Summit in Kigali on July 17, 2016.

The African Union launched the African passport this week at its summit meeting in Rwanda. The idea is to allow better movement of people to stimulate African economies. But details of who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out.

Outgoing AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma gave the first two passports to the African Union chairman and Chadian president, Idriss Deby, and to her host, the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame.

She told heads of state there had been overwhelming requests for the passport from many of their citizens.

"So we would therefore suggest for your consideration as we launch the AU passport today, that we agree to create conditions in member states to issue this passport to their citizens within their national policies as and when they are ready," said Dlamini-Zuma.

The AU’s deputy chairperson, Erastus Mwencha, told media that no member state has opposed the passport proposal, but the AU’s trade and industry commissioner, Fatima Haram Acyl, said a few member states don’t recognize it.

Who gets the passport will depend on each government, Haram Acyl explained.

"They can decide to give it to, you know, good business people that they think can invest all across the continent and so forth. But the ultimate goal, as I said, is really to make sure that everybody moves freely," Haram said.

One interested businessman is Kenyan Kenfield Griffith. His company, M-survey, has done a mobile opinion poll of 167 Kenyans that found 88 percent approve of the passport.

"I mean it would be very useful for me for instance because we’re trying to scale across the continent. It may expedite visa processes," Griffith said. "It can be a way of having the primary information already on that person so that when they show their African Union passport that expedites the process of getting the visas, because they’re already in the system."

Another businessman, Zimbabwean Alvin Musengezi, hopes the passport will effectively become an AU work permit.

"I hope that the AU passport turns into something like the EU passport, so that if I decide I want to set up a business and look at a certain region to optimize my business operations I can optimize without any complication," said Musengezi.

There are technical challenges ahead for some countries to issue the passport, and immigration is a major concern for many.

Judging by social media, few Africans disapprove of the passport, many are skeptical they will ever get one and many see the initiative as a step in the right direction.