02 July 2007
Civil society organisations have unveiled a symbolic pan-African passport at the fringes of the 9th African Union (AU) Summit, taking place in Accra, Ghana, highlighting the need to speed up continental integration and promote the free movement of both people and goods across the continent.
“If we want economic integration, we need our citizens to be able to unlock opportunities across their borders and be able to travel freely on the continent. When Africans travel abroad, there should be just one passport required,” said Oxfam’s Pan-Africa head of economic justice, Lamine Ndiaye.
Ndiaye gave examples of some Africans needing to visit a British embassy to obtain a visa to go to Kenya, while others required an endorsement from a French embassy to visit Senegal.
“This is an unacceptable situation. What’s worse is when foreigners have more ease of travel in Africa than Africans,” Ndiaye said.
“For instance, a Togolese who wants to go to Ethiopia will only be given a three-month visa, while an American will get a two-year visa.”
Oxfam explained that while African Union employees had been recently issued with AU diplomatic passports to ease their movement across the continent to carry out their work, ordinary Africans also deserved the right to free movement.
Regarding the possible challenges this might present, such as human trafficking and cross-border crime, Ndiaye said an “African Interpol” could be convened based on the infrastructure of national police forces.
Visas are ‘illogical and unacceptable’
Senegalese Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, who is taking part in the 11th Executive Council meeting, supports the idea of abolishing visas for Africans in Africa.
“The principle of Africans needing visas to travel on the continent is illogical and unacceptable,” Gadio told BuaNews.
Africans requiring visas to travel on the continent went against the aims of the African Union, he said.
“It’s a total contradiction of the AU. I hope that this Grand Debate will take care of [this issue]. When we integrate this great continent of ours I hope we start by scrapping all those visa requirements,” Gadio said.
The abolition of visas is not an alien concept to South Africa, which scrapped the need for visas to its SADC neighbour, Mozambique some years ago.
One of the key themes at the AU summit has been termed the “Grand Debate”, which explores possible options for creating a unified, integrated continent.
This could either be a “Union of African States” which is a view led by South African President Thabo Mbeki, an “African Union Government” which was a suggestion put forward by former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo or the “United States of Africa” model led by the Libyan President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.