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African passport launched at AU Kigali summit

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The new passport represents the latest efforts to create a common market for the continent

By Tullah Stephen

The much awaited Pan-African passport was finally launched on Sunday. The outgoing African Union Commission chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, handed two representational African passports to President Paul Kagame and the African Union President Idriss Deby of Chad during the opening ceremony of the 27th ordinary session of the Assembly of the African Union held in Kigali.

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The passport, seeks to create beneficial visa regimes across the region in addition to crafting a path for a visa-free Africa under the AU’s ‘Africa We Want’ agenda.  The move is further expected to facilitate mobility of Africans as well as ease trade across the continent thereby leading the continents economic growth. AU reports that intra-African trade currently stands at 13 per cent.

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The launch of the passport is seen as one of the milestones of the AU under the leadership of Dr Dlamini-Zuma. Previously, holders of an African passport required visas to visit more than 30 countries on the continent.

First to get these passports would be government leaders and diplomats with President Deby of Chad  and his counterpart President Paul Kagame  being the first heads of state to get theirs by the virtues of being the chairperson of the AU and the host of the summit respectively.  “These are great steps we are taking. Our union has great ambitions that seek to ensure economic and political integration.” said President Deby

“We have received numerous request and inquiries of other ministers, officials and African citizens to share this privilege of holding the African passport,” said Dr Dlamini-Zuma. She also urged Heads of State to create conditions for member states to issue the passport to their citizens, ‘within their national policies, as and when they are ready.’

The passport has however faced a number of criticisms in the last few weeks with critics pointing out that millions of Africans are still not documented and simply won’t get a passport. Others have also raised issues on many African nations ability to develop biometric systems necessary for the electronic passports. A border less Africa could also make it easier for terrorists to move freely within and between countries. Human traffickers could also capitalize on the new system

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