The beginning of a borderless Africa?
What do recent immigration developments in African Union countries mean for Africa’s economy and international companies doing business with the region?
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African Union passport: the future of AfricaWith the continuous news coverage surrounding the Brexit referendum, and the rampant speculation about whether the European Union is weakening, it may have escaped the notice of some that the African Union is quietly doing the opposite – coming together.On 19 July, the 54 members of the African Union concluded the 27th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Kigali, Rwanda. The three-day summit was characterised by much optimism about the future of Africa and the far-reaching plans to tear down barriers to trade and mobility on the continent. Pro-Link GLOBAL has been analysing the events of this summit and the developments in immigration practice in the African nations with interest.The assembly began on 17 July with a much-anticipated “symbolic act of Pan-Africanism with the launch of the African Union (AU) passport aimed at facilitating the free movement of people on the continent”, according to an African Union press release.Idriss Deby Itno, president of the Republic of Chad and chairperson of the AU, and Paul Kagame, president of the Republic of Rwanda, received the first AU passports issued. “I feel deeply and proudly a son of Africa after receiving this passport,” said President Idriss Deby during the ceremony.The new African Union passports are ultimately designed to allow visa-free travel for citizens of the union’s 54 member states to all other union member nations.The new electronic AU passports were initially given to the heads of state and senior officials of the member countries. The plan is to make the new electronic passports available to all citizens of member nations by 2018. The AU passport is a key platform of the union’s long-range Agenda 2063 plan.According to the African Development Bank’s 2016 Africa Visa Openness Report, of the 20 most visa-open countries in the world, 75 per cent are in Africa. Citizens of African nations can already travel to 45 per cent of the countries within the continent without a visa, and an additional 25 per cent through visa-on-arrival.Currently, 13 countries in Africa have visa-free entry to citizens of other African nations. But that number may quickly increase, as the AU nations earnestly pursue their goal of visa-free travel among all 54 members.Ghana kicked off its commitment to the movement ahead of the summit, when it began granting visa-on-arrival for up to 30 days for all AU nationals on 1 July. Uganda also rolled out online immigration services with electronic visa processing – an essential first step in realising the AU’s vision – in early July. The weeks since the AU summit have brought announcements from Namibia and Nigeria that both are presently working on visa-free and visa- on-arrival schemes for African nationals.Many proponents of freer travel within the African nations point to Rwanda as another success story. According to the African Development Bank report, much of the economic growth in Rwanda in recent years can be attributed to its increased visa-free and visa- on-arrival business and tourist travellers.
Challenges lie aheadHowever, not all leaders are optimistic when it comes to the plan’s timetable. Candidly some leaders admit that the 2018 target is somewhat on the ambitious side, as there are still barriers for some countries to overcome before the plan can be fully implemented.The first and most obvious obstacle is that not all member nations currently have the technological infrastructure in place for the electronic registration system and biometrics. It may take several years beyond 2018 for the necessary technology to be put into place in these countries.The second, and more unpredictable, obstacle that could slow or derail the plan is the chronic security issues, largely due to terrorism and organised crime, which affect some member nations.Some member states are likely to be apprehensive about relaxing border entry requirements for their neighbours struggling with active terrorist groups. The fear is that these groups could more easily spread unless stringent security measures accompany the relaxing of visa requirements.The ultimate goal of a borderless Africa is improved standards of living and prosperity for all African citizens through increased trade on the continent, as the case in Rwanda demonstrates.Realistically, Africa still has a long way to go. For instance, intra-continent trade in Africa currently stands at approximately 12 per cent, compared with more than 70 per cent in Europe.While challenges still lie ahead for Africa in its quest for greater mobility and trade among the nations, it cannot be denied that the current on going developments are a positive sign for the region. Increased mobility between the nations should make doing business in Africa easier and more profitable.Companies looking for new opportunities would be wise to keep Africa on their radar.
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