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?

A major highlight of the recent 27th Session of the African Union was the rolling out of the new African Union passport to kick off the three-day summit.

As the nations of Europe struggle to maintain their union following the Brexit vote, the nations of Africa appear to be steadily strengthening their own union. Current developments aimed at free trade and mobility within the continent make Africa a region to watch.

African Union passport: the future of Africa

With 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.