Heads of African States at the 27th African Union Summit in Kigali, Rwanda sent a strong signal to the continent that a single African passport could be possible. Such a move will be a big step towards reinforcing existing regional integration and even form others; stronger and bigger. However, it will require a very strong political leadership on the parts of the heads of state.
The proposal to have a single passport for Africa will ensure free movement of people across the continent. This proposal is part of the African Union (AU) 2063 Agenda. Although it has been the agenda for the African Development Bank (AfDB), skepticism is rife as to whether the bank will ever deliver single passport in Africa. The signal sent by the Heads of States in Kigali seems more believable as such a move will require political will from the various countries.
The recent UN Economic Report on Africa shows that the African continent makes the least inter-continental trade compared to the other continent. 80% of exports from African countries are shipped overseas with trade within the countries on the continent standing at 10% – 12%. A very modest figure compared to 60% in Europe and 40% in Asia.
There is, however, no doubt that this declaration of interest for a single passport for all African countries is an early stage of a very complicated political and economic process. If executed, citizens from any African country will freely move in between the country without the bottlenecks of administrative constraints.
Potential Benefits of a Single African Passport
One of the key aspects of economic integration is labor mobility; something that will go a long way in helping countries with insufficient labor in sectors like education, health, and industries. Take, for instance, Rwanda. In 2013, the country allowed Africans to obtain visas upon arrival, and it has seen 22% increase in the number of African tourists and business travelers.
The East Africa Community (EAC) has made some commendable progress towards economic integration. Between the member countries, there is free movement of labor, and there is mutual recognition of certain professional and academic qualifications like engineers, accountants, architects.
The AfDB study on Human Capital Strategy shows there is a deficit of 4 million teachers and between 1 – 2 million health worker deficits. With free mobility of labor between African countries, this shortfall will be quickly neutralized.
To address the perennial technical skills deficit across many African countries, in July 2013, the AfDB set aside $154.2 million for the establishment of Pan African University of science, innovation, and technology to be up and running within the next five years. The single passport for Africa will ease cross-border movement of students and lecturers and even encourage inter-university mobility.
Lastly the AfDB invest significant amount of funds towards the construction of infrastructure in and between African countries. That is just the hardware connecting the countries, and getting the software right; by enabling free movement of people between the countries will lead to efficient use of such infrastructure.