On African Union’s new electronic passport

Lately, the long-awaited African Union (AU) passport was presented by the Commission’s Chairperson, Dr. Dlamini Zuma, to the Chairperson of the union, President Idriss Deby of Chad and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda at the opening ceremony of the 27th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU Summit in Kigali, Rwanda. It is a historic move to create “seamless borders” modelled on European Union Schengen free movement deal, which has abolished many internal borders to enable passport-free movement across the bloc.

By this new electronic passport, the African Union (AU), which represents 54 states, hopes to facilitate free movement of persons, goods and services around the continent to foster intra-Africa trade, integration and socio-economic development. The passport features inscriptions in five languages—English, French, Arabic, Portuguese, and Swahili. Basically, there are two passports – one issued by the African Union for officials and people who travel a lot on business, and the other by individual countries for everyone else. It serves to remove all barriers to inter-African trade, thereby promoting less dependence on former colonial powers.

Remarkably, sceptics have argued that a borderless Africa would be challenging due to militancy, civil war and public health crises in the continent. In addition, it has been argued that an agreement about visa-free travel could have been a better option to produce similar result. Moreso, some African countries might be reluctant to open their borders, to avoid a huge influx of people from other countries. Moreover, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the clearing house for 260 airlines across the globe, had expressed concern that the demand for air travel is growing at slow pace owing to the economic downturn, political shock and a wave of terrorist attacks across the globe.

However, a cursory look at the crime situation in Africa would reveal that the proximate cause is the whole range of economic conditions associated with poverty, social injustice and inequality exacerbated by the high rate of unemployment and economic hardship. This requires collective responsibility as evident by Boko Haram operations which now cut across borders within the continent.

Worse still, is the recent declaration by the Islamic State that Abu Musab al-Barnawi was now leader of the dreaded group. This has however been denied by Abubakar Shekau whom in an audio message said he was alive and had not been replaced. Shekau took over as the group’s leader after its founder, Muhammad Yusuf, died in Nigerian police custody in July 2009. Evidently, the recent bond between Boko Haram and the more sophisticated jihadist group – IS (as a self-proclaimed IS’s “West African province”) does not portend any clear sign that the Nigerian armed forces has won the war against same as we are made to believe. Also, the United States had only recently warned its citizens against travelling to 20 states in Nigeria, including the insurgency-hit northeast.

Taking a critical look at security challenges across the globe, it amounts to gross negligence of duty for any government to ignore its moral and constitutional duty of defending its citizenry. No doubt, African industrialization can be a reality in our lifetime, but it is up to all of us to ensure that we do not bequeath violent conflicts, wars and genocide to future generations of Africans.

Happily, the African Union (AU) passport is a step towards achieving a multinational United States of Africa, being a concept which takes its origin from Marcus Garvey’s 1924 poem, Hail, United States of Africa.  It is hoped that in no distant time, member states will pass the necessary legislations to accord legal cloak and establish the required machinery for the full implementation of this laudable initiative of the AU to achieve a full roll-out of the AU passport to all African citizens by the end of 2018.


  • Ogunjobi, a lawyer, is based in Lagos.