Whatever happened to the all Africa passport?

By Kelvin Chiringa
December 2016 & January 2017
Prime Business

The world watched with much glee at the giant step ahead taken by the African leadership as the media went abuzz at the inception of the new digitalised and machine-readable African passport and all and sundry could not help but wonder as state officials were caught by cameras grinning at “the new baby”.

The hope it brought to the continent was unprecedented, so much so to the commoner who for decades had been holding on to the visions of such a breathtaking possibility, a vision carved out of the desire by the Architects of pan-Africanism for Africa to be an indivisible whole despite geopolitical confines.

The reality of it was too much that it drew skepticism to some as much as it imbued an aura of wonderment at the prospects of “change’ and “progress” for a people of color brought together by common interests and the intricate similarities in cultures and tradition which very much govern the way business is conducted to an extent.

Already, the manner in which this “baby” was received into the world brought more questions bordering on the cynical, especially so in this noble publication by this member of the fourth estate.

But why do Africans need this passport after all? What’s in it for the commoner, the pundit and the business person?  How much does it improve the lives of every individual who concedes equal citizenship of this continent with the next person?

To begin with, a shocking report by the African Development Bank reveals that Africans need visas to travel to 55% of other African countries, at a time when Africans can get visas on arrival in 25% of other African countries and do not need a visa to travel to 20% of other African countries.

The disunited nature of Africa from these statistics becomes very revealing, and barriers to free travel thus continue to negatively impact on the development of African economies, given that the closed spaces provide no springboard for smooth intra-Africa trade.

Yet, as the new electronic passport was birthed out of the desire enshrined in Vison 2063 to dismantle barriers to trade, the hope with which it brought now seems like an illusion given the sudden eerie silence that has fallen over it.

Whatever is holding back the accessibility of this cherished document to the majority of Africans and voters who elected those who today steer our socio-political and economic destiny needs to be communicated to all and sundry in a clearly written language.

While Africa’s population is expected to rise to more than two billion people by 2050, writer and columnist, Ritesh Anand underscores that,”  The continent’s economic transformation needs to promote inclusive growth.

Expanding opportunities for a growing population puts skills high up the agenda. Skills and talent mobility go hand-in-hand. Removing time, cost and process obstacles to moving freely across the continent, empowers Africans to make study or job choices that impact on their incomes.”

The fallen hero of Afro-optimism and Pan-Africanism, Muammar Al Gadhafi once said,” “I am satisfied that Africa is going along its historic and right road. One day it will become similar to the United States of America. We are approaching the formation of the African Authority and each time we solve African problems and also move in the direction of peace and unity. We deal with problems step by step. We are continuing to do that.”
It seems that “one day” has after all become a walk into eternity, as the whole noise of a USA[frica] and the final provision of an all Africa travel document has died down, with other issues ranging from the South Africa “State Capture Pandemonium”,

“social media revolution” in Zimbabwe, political strife in Ethiopia and elsewhere having eclipsed efforts to unite the continent.
Even with the launch of the e-passport, political analysts were already smelling something fishy about it, given that the strife of Africa are too many to the extent of shredding the continent apart leaving Vision 2063 as mere lip service.

Could there be a fear then of the implications of opening the borders to every African or is it that there is an outside divisive force bent on frustrating efforts of unity? (which would definitely redress to some extent the balance of power, if there happens to be any balance at all)

If silence be an argument carried out by other means, as the revolutionary Che Guevara said, then the silence around this most priced and yearned for document needs to be broken for all noble Africans to get to be in the know of “When this passport will finally land in their hands?”

The silence seems to speak volumes of the incompetency of our leadership and their inert deficits at implementation as well as the absence of uniting forces who walk in the unwavering spirit of the late Julius Nyerere, each has gone to his own while the majority are left confused as to; which way to take?