A new electronic African Union passport is set to make travel on the continent much easier for Africans.
Currently, Africans are required to have Visas for over half of the countries on the continent. Only 13 of those countries allow other Africans to enter without a visa or issue visas upon arrival. In contrast, Americans can travel to 20 African countries without visas or with visas issued at the time of arrival.
“The scene seems to be set to realize the dream of visa-free travel for African citizens within their own continent by 2020,” the AU said in a statement announcing the launch.
African travelers say they are met with the same level of suspicion at immigrant counters within the continent as the ones outside of it.
Aliko Dangote, a Nigerian businessman and Africa’s wealthiest man, was himself once turned away by South African immigration officials as he struggled to locate his passport. Meanwhile his American staff cruised through border control.
Intra-African trade also costs more than any other region—as much as 50% higher than East Asia, for example. A truck serving supermarkets in southern Africa needs to carry as many as 1,600 documents, including permits and licenses, in order to cross borders, according to Anabel Gonzalez, senior director of a World Bank group on trade and global competitiveness.
The goal of the African Union passport is to help transform Africa into a continent with seamless borders.
Skeptics point out though, that creating a borderless Africa will likely be challenging. The continent hosts many refugees from conflict areas, not to mention militant groups like al-Shabaab or Boko Haram. Then there are public health crises like the Ebola outbreak, and questions posed by the nationality of those who have been deemed stateless.
The Seychelles, Rwanda, Mauritius, and most recently Ghana have all loosened travel restrictions on their fellow Africans, allowing visas on arrivals or entry without the permit. But the process remains slow. Currently, only AU heads of state and government, ministers of foreign affairs, and other AU officials can apply for the passport, which will be recognized in all 54 countries belonging to the organization.