One of the pillars of Agenda 2063 is the free movement of natural persons on the continent, which is partly predicated on an African passport. However, for many Africans, free movement remains a dream.
“When I go around Africa, I don’t need a visa. I take my African passport and I go,” says Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the former African Union (AU) Commission chairperson who spearheaded the flagship Agenda 2063.
Dlamini-Zuma made the remarks at the recently concluded Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF) 2021 in Durban, where a common observation was the lack of ease of travel for Africans on their own continent.
In addition to administrative teething problems, such as issuance of visas and passports, the region’s ambitions towards realising an ‘open skies’ policy have suffered setbacks, including South African Airways’ weakened position and the potential loss of Addis Ababa as a transit hub because of the internal instability in Ethiopia. The country’s crisis poses a risk to Ethiopian Airlines, which has in recent years emerged as a regional success story.
“[…] On the open skies, for instance, there is policy. It’s for countries now to implement… [For] ease of travel, there is an African passport. When I go around Africa, I don’t need a visa. I take my African passport and […] go,” said Dlamini-Zuma.
Print, print, print
However, the caveat is that it is up to individual countries to print the African passport for their citizens because “the AU doesn’t know the citizens. It’s the countries that do”, said Dlamini-Zuma.
According to the South African minister, “each country must print and say, ‘AU passport South Africa’, ‘AU passport Nigeria’”. She insisted “that [countries printing African passports] will ease [travel], even before visas, because the passport allows you to move”.
Beyond the African passport, she urged a rethink on how Africa views itself as a travel market.
“I think we must see ourselves as domestic in terms of continental, but if we see ourselves as distinct countries then that domestic will disappear. That’s why the EU, if you look at their tourism or anywhere else, the greatest numbers come from their continent,” she added.
Kenny Hlela, a director at the department of tourism in South Africa, says when it comes to open skies, most African countries are defensive.
“We need to take a risk and liberalise the air market, the air space. That’s what Europe did. In fact, America [led] and they started growing. The space became competitive,” says Hlela. However, the same cannot yet be said about Africa and thus, Hlela prescribes a co-ordinated effort to remedy the situation.
Cause of frustration
Wamkele Mene, the general secretary of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat, says: “I share your frustrations on the movement of natural persons.”
He echoes Dlamini-Zuma’s sentiments, that an instrument to facilitate free movement of natural persons does exist, and it is currently sitting before AU member states. It is the AU protocol on the movement of natural persons.
However, “regrettably, it has been ratified by only 10 or 11 countries. That means we still have a long way to go before there are legal obligations to enable movement of natural persons”, says Mene. “We know from the experience of the EU that if you want to boost intra-Africa trade, you have to enable movement of natural persons.”
For pre-negotiated categories of business people, free movement around the continent is closer to reality. “… [A] step before the free movement of persons, is movement of businesspersons,” says Mene, who adds that “in the category of trade in services [in the AfCFTA], we have a category of movement of businesspersons.”
“It’s not 100% movement of natural persons, but with this mode four mechanism we will enable businesspersons, pre-negotiated categories of businesspersons, to have access to the whole continent. […] it is a step in the [right] direction while we wait for the protocol on the free movement of persons to be ratified,” he says.
Thebe Ikalafeng, the chairperson of Brand Africa, has travelled to every country on the continent. “One of the challenges is having to pay for about 30 or so visas just to move around Africa,” he tells The Africa Report.
“[…] sometimes I have to leave the continent to come back to another country in Africa because we don’t have open skies. We don’t have the airlines. We don’t have those conducive ways to make it easy for Africans to travel,” says Ikalafeng.
“I am here [at the IATF 2021] to announce the launch of Africa’s Best Places. I am adding to Africa’s Best Brands, which we have done for the last 10 years, by looking at Africa’s Best Places from a tourism, investment and citizen mobilisation point of view,” he tells The Africa Report.
The big reveal is scheduled for 1 September 2022. “Between now and then, I am putting together a pan-African adjudication, research, and survey team. I am inviting Africans to bring forward those best places,” he says.
States sitting on protocol
At the AU level, the commissioner for trade, Albert Muchanga, cites the protocol on the Abuja Treaty. “That protocol opened for signatures in 2018. At this point, we have about 30-32 countries that have signed the protocol. About four countries have ratified the protocol. It requires a minimum of 15 for it to enter into force.”
When that protocol is in force, “there is going to be free movement of people across Africa – visa free. There’s also going to be an African passport. Each African will decide where to reside or establish a business”, Machunga says. “In addition, there is going to be mutual recognition of academic and professional qualifications.”
As Africans wait for that to happen, the continental body has made moves, “one of which is to provide AU passports to Africans who are always travelling around the continent. Some countries have taken it upon themselves to issue visas on arrival”, says Muchanga.
The AU commissioner for trade concedes that “we are slowly liberalising the movement of people. It’s not going to be done today. It will take some time.”
In-country lobbying required
“During this IATF, that issue of the African passport, that issue of difficulty moving across Africa came up. I listened. I am going to share the concerns with the other members of the commission when I get back to Addis Ababa,” Muchanga says.
“For now, we have taken incremental steps to address that issue. Stakeholders also help us by lobbying your respective countries to sign and ratify the protocol,” Muchanga tells The Africa Report.