27th African Union Summit (10-18th July 2016), Kigali

The first passports were handed over to the president of the African Union Idriss Déby (Tschad) und Paul Kagame, president of the host country Rwanda. You can find a video of the inauguration with the chairperson of the African Union commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma here.

For more impressions from the  vom 27th African Union Summit 2016 in Kigali please click here.

JournAfrica recently published a less optimistic view on the African Union and the integration process by Babatunde Fagbayibo. You can find the article here. "Few or no powers are transferred to the AU Commission to exercise any real authority beyond drafting policies", Fagbayibo states. According to his analysis, the commission has no institutional authority to implement the organisation’s directives or sanction member states that have failed to comply with organisational rules.

The dream of having a United States of Africa (USA) that was started by the late former Libyan President Muamar Gaddafi is beginning to set pace, some 15 years after it was initially thought of. While alive, Gaddafi bankrolled most presidents, heads of government and cultural leaders across the continent, urging them to champion his dream of a United Africa.

Gadaffi was at the forefront for the formation of USA though the name shall be formally adopted during the coming AU summit. It is not apparent, whether it will remain USA as championed by the later Muammar Gaddafi, which will be similar to the United States of Africa, but during the just concluded 27th AU summit, all leaders referred to the single continent as United States of Africa.

In a rare twist of events, the 54 Heads of States and Government meeting at the 27th African Union Summit in Rwanda Capital Kigali, resolved to have one African passport to ease free trade and movement in the continent. This demonstrates unity in the African Union, one is inclined to overlook the failed election of a successor of commission president Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The election was postponed to January 2017, because the diplomats failed to agree on suitable candidates for the presidency of the African Union commission.

No visa applications and free trade

The new African Passport has been a direct response to millions of Africans demanding the right to travel freely across their continent. There have been persistent demands from the various regional economic blocs – the East African Community (EAC), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to ease trade by removing the Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs). The most frequently seen NTBs were border restrictions and visa queries that most nations said was a big hindrance to trade. The call was followed by the issuance of National IDs among these regional economic blocs, a joint single entry visa like for East Africa, and now the Single African passport.

Africa is a united continent

Idriss Déby, Chadian President and current AU Chairman, said the move to have one passport used by the African in the African continent would go a long way in helping the continent realize its dream of becoming a super power: “It’s a simple travel document, but it sends out an important message: Africa is united continent. It is now up to the individual member states to make the passport available and accessible to all their citizens.” The passports will be issued by the African Union secretariat and the respective African Union government member states. The document would entitle all African citizens a free movement, work and settlement across the continent.

At the same time, the Chadian leader warned, though: “We still have a long way to go for Africa to be more unified, stronger, stable, prosperous, and most importantly – sovereign”. This was in reference to the xenophobia issues where some African migrant workers were attacked and torched in South Africa recently.

The first beneficiaries, according to the African Union officials, will be Heads of States and Governments, Diplomats and high ranking government officials. Déby made it clear, though, that all citizens in Africa will be entitled to the single African passport. The roll out is expected to gain momentum by 2018, after the top government officials, and diplomats have received theirs. Rwanda even announced that it had already started printing the African passports for its citizens.

The outgoing Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said in Kigali, the single African passport will help ease free trade in the continent: “The African Union wants to establish a free trade deal across the continent by 2017, as intra-African trade costs more than any other region.” Many presidents welcomed the idea saying Africa is forging ahead with an ambitious plan to accelerate the free movement of Africans and integrate national economies beyond border communities.

Africa is the most fragmented continent worldwide and its people suffer the cost of non-integration on a daily basis. “This fragmentation was imposed on Africa and we are currently working to reverse this process – without violating the principle of sovereignty,” Rwandan president Paul Kagame said.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni noted that the reason for growing integration across Africa is to do with flexibility: “We are aware that there is no continental prescription toward integration. Thus, various methods have been adopted in different trade blocs that illustrate the notion that one size doesn’t fit all.”

Just a few days after Brexit

The African Union move towards a United States of Africa comes just days after Brexit, the market plunging and with a drastic depreciation of the Pound and the resignation of UK Prime Minister David Cameron. Valentine Rugwabiza, the Rwandan minister for East African Affairs noted that Europe Union and Africa Union differ in centralized and decentralized models of governance: The European Commission has the power to make regulatory decisions on behalf of all EU members. This very centralized model means that there is a high level of centralized decision-making especially amongst Eurozone countries. On the contrary, the African Union Commission is highly decentralized in nature with limited influence on Regional Economic Communities.”

Rugwabiza explains that recent scenarios not only put the future of UK in jeopardy, but the entire European Union at stake: “Beyond the reasons that divided people over this vote and its economic and political ramifications, there is a growing frustration with inter-governmental integration models. Why then – with the woes of the European Union so visible – is Africa forging ahead with an ambitious plan to accelerate the free movement of Africans and integrate national economies beyond border communities and physical proximity?” Rugwabiza asked?

She however defends the move: “Firstly, the contexts between Europe and Africa are dramatically different. The European Union (EU) is the most integrated region globally. For several decades, Europeans have enjoyed the benefits of integration. A large population of the EU has never known what it is like to require visas while traveling in the region or seek work permits to work elsewhere in Europe other than their home countries. On the contrary, Africans have a completely parallel experience to this.”

If African diplomay will be able to overcome this fragmentation will be a question of endurance. But there already are positive examples. In East Africa, regional integration has been instrumental in building cross-border infrastructure; removing barriers to people and goods; and, cutting costs for the East African Community (EAC) citizen. According to the Africa Regional Integration Index report 2016, the EAC is rated as a leading regional bloc on the Continent on various dimensions that include trade integration, regional infrastructure and productive integration. A growing number of Mutually Recognised Agreements mean that Accountants, Architects and Engineers can work seamlessly across EAC states.” These are positive examples for the African integration, on the other hand this tests the African Union to implement the organisation’s directives or sanction member states that have failed to comply with organisational rules.

African diplomacy must show patience. Experts have observed that as the integration train blows full steam ahead, the speed won’t be determined by the train wagon with the slowest speed. A sense of urgency and haste is what will define the entire process. The vision of the African Union is enshrined in Agenda 2063, a continental paradigm shift aimed at working toward an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.

The dream of the United States of Africa is a minute away, the African Union must show patience and learn from experiences in regional integration processes. That is the way for an African continent without borders.