The African Union (AU) launched its continental passport this past June, anticipating it to be a key step in boosting integration and free movement of people across the African continent. Among the first recipients of the passport were Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and the current AU Chairman, Idris Deby of Chad. Although it is expected to take long before individual citizens get the AU passport, analysts as well as traders believe it is a step in the right direction to boost trade.
According to the Africa Trade Policy Center (ATPC) report, regional integration is a development priority for Africa. The 2016 ATPC report says integration matters in Africa as it affects what people can buy; the variety of what is on offer at the local market; how easily citizens move between countries; where individuals travel for leisure or for work; how cost-effective it is to keep in touch; where people choose to study or look for a job; how to transfer money to family or get start-up capital for a business.
Many ordinary citizens will have to wait long for their AU passport, as 37 per cent of the people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have clear identification, according to the World Bank but that has not stopped them from imagining how life will be different with the AU passport: Hamidah Kabamaragi who deals in garments in Uganda says: “VISA requirements limit trade. Most of my clients come from Sudan and have to pay high visa charges (USD 100) to enter Uganda, which in turn reduces their capital. With easy movements of people across African countries, trade will definitely be better.”
Denaya Dennis, a web developer, and upcoming entrepreneur from South Sudan also praises the AU Passport initiative. “It will help create one unique identity of Africa and will ease movement of the African citizens and fasten a balanced development across the region, although it might take some time.”
James Alic Garang,a Senior Economist at Ebony Center for Strategic Studies and Assistant Professor of Economics at Upper Nile University in South Sudan says: “The AU passport will ease mobility across countries by cutting down on travel costs. This can help South Sudan, too. This is not to downplay the current business uncertainty, which has low business confidence in the country owing to the ongoing economic crisis.”
Garang says: “The removal of any barriers to trade is one step closer to African integration. The AU passport bolsters and ensconces solidarity among African nations and this could go well with political stability. That is an essential ingredient for macroeconomic stability, which is central for viable commerce. Realising one African Passport is a giant leap toward United States of Africa, because this presents a rock-solid opportunity to ease mobility, create solidarity and enhance political-macroeconomic stability.”
Mariam Majdoline, General Manager of the LAS Company, which deals in procurement and logistics, says: “The AU passport will help to overcome some big problems in Africa.”