Common African Passport: Opportunities and Challenges Ahead for the African Union

10 Min Read

In the spirit of pan-Africanism, part of the African Union’s agenda for 2063 involves moving a step closer towards continental integration by redefining Africa’s colonial borders. One way that the AU plans to do this is by inaugurating a Common Africa Passport which was an idea announced by the Africa Union Commissioner for Economic Affairs, Anthony Maruping last week.

Simply stated, a common passport would mean that everyone in Africa will be issued the same centralized passport affirming to the continent of Africa as their point of origin

The Opportunities Ahead:

Generally speaking, this is a step in the right direction for a continent whose national borders were forced on them. The introduction of a single passport system would help solidify a common identity for all Africans who currently live in a continent which is home to 54 nations and 3,000 distinct ethnic groups.

Those that have long argued against the wisdom of keeping colonial borders will regard the move as a step towards breaking down the continent’s colonial legacy and establishing stability on the continent. National borders and ethnic tensions have been at the roof of much of the continents conflicts because disparate groups were lumped together under colonial flags.

Devoted pan-Africanists, who have been calling for continental unity since the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), will also see this as a positive move towards achieving pan-Africanism – the idea that all people of African origin first and foremost belong to Africa as a common homeland regardless of where they live or where they were born.

Established in 1963, the OAU which is a predecessor of the AU, was founded with a focus on continental unity in order to collaborate over areas of common interest. In the wave of colonialism, the overthrow of European colonizers in Africa became a central focus.

Whilst the overthrow of colonial powers has arguably been achieved, continental unity beyond the latter goal of  ridding the continent of its colonial rule  was largely seen a pipedream in practical terms. Early pan-Africanists such as Kwame Nkrumah, Gamel Nasser, and Julius Nyerere hoped for concerted efforts in other areas to be a central part of the organization’s undertakings.

The establishment of a common passport is therefore a concrete way in which the AU can carry forth the vision of early pan-Africanists who wanted to see a truly united Africa when they laid the foundation for the organisation.

In spite of its ideological aspirations, the establishment of a single passport is not just driven by a need to fulfil anti-colonial agendas nor lofty philosophical ideals ushered in by pan-Africanism. In practical terms, the establishment of a common passport will make it easier for Africans to travel within the continent; cross border traders to conduct business; employers to hire across borders, and Africans to migrate to different parts of the continent for economic purposes.

Therefore, there is a strong economic incentive to see this project through. Politically, it will have the potential to lay the foundation for the thousands of Africans that remains stateless or are in refugee camps to have some form of permanent and legal status on the continent. It also has a potential to include members of the Africa’s Diaspora who have long been seeking to obtain dual citizenship in Africa for decades.

The Challenges of a Common African Passport:

Although the idea of a common passport is promising, the implementation of a common passport for the continent has its challenges. An AU passport would enable greater employment mobility for African employees. Simply put, it would enable the holder to seek employment without immigration restrictions.

This may present challenges for countries such as South Africa which has recently experienced xenophobic uprisings where poor black South Africans have been rising against poor black African immigrants and scapegoating them for their economic woes.

Ironically, while the rest of the continent is still recovering over the horror of these recent attacks, the announcement was made  at the 25th AU Summit which was held in Johannesburg, South Africa. However, whether such deep migration issues on the continent will properly be addressed before the common passport’s implementation is unclear.

Eligibility for the common passport will also present a challenge. This area centres on issues of of citizenship and dual citizenship. Africa has a large share of individuals that have been rendered stateless or that hold refugee status in their respective countries. One wonders whether such individuals would be eligible for a common African passport if their citizenship is not recognised in the country of their birth or residence.

Currently, half of the nations in Africa recognise dual citizenship. That is, being a citizen of more than one country. The citizenship of members of the African Diaspora will need to be addressed.

Challenges over whether Africans from countries without dual citizenship who have been naturalised abroad and have lost citizenship in their home countries would be eligible for the common African passport with or without being citizens of their birth nation. To add to this, there is the additional question of the eligibility of their offspring who may have been born outside of the continent.

Many of the involuntary or old African Diaspora have been have been calling for a more formal recognition of their African roots through citizenship as well. Further complicating the process will be how the common passports implementation will affect this African Diaspora group which is largely made up of African-Americans, Afro-Latinos, Afro-Asians etc…whose migration was forced but who the African Union (AU) now considers as constituting the 6th region of Africa.

It is not yet clear whether the AU will extend eligibility for them to have a common African passport through continental level citizenship and/or dual citizenship. If not, what criteria will the AU use to determine who belongs to the African continent?

Haiti is currently an AU member state which raises the question on whether the eligibility of the involuntary Diaspora group would be determined by their home country’s AU membership or not. The eligibility of nationals of member states that are bonafide members of the AU would need some consideration.

Apart from these larger challenges, other seemingly mundane but important issues such as which language the passports be written in will also manifest. There are nearly 2,000 languages spoken on the continent and translation into all these languages will not be feasible.

The front runners will more likely be the official languages of the AU – Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, or Kiswahili – which for the most part will mean the further entrenchment of non-indigenous languages in a continent that is trying to unite based on its “African identity”.

Ironically, the very document that will solidify our African origins and identity will further link us to our colonial ones. This means that a heated debate over our common languages or lingua-francas will likely ensue which may bring real tensions for those trying to shake off their colonial roots as well as those whom consider language as a reflection of national (or continental) cultural identity.

In spite of the aforementioned challenges, the idea of a common African passport should be considered a positive step for the continent trying to unify. It also compliments other steps that the AU is taking such as the implementation of a common currency for Africa which was also announced last week. These changes signal a continent that is ready to come together once again, to make the changes necessary to tackle the new world order for the benefit of Africans.

Share This Article