Counting down to the Africa Day 2017 celebrations
By Oluwole Sheriff Olusanya
“The idea of an Africa with seamless borders is the way to go. Africa is endowed with vast natural resources, including minerals and rich soil. If we can combine our strength, then we could live without financial help from Western and European countries.”
-Yves Butera – Spokesperson, Rwanda Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration.
So, last week Friday (the same day I published my article on the Lagos at 50 celebrations titled; Lagos is my success story: Land of Hustle (https://shegzsablezs.blogspot.com.ng/2017/05/lagos-is-my-success-story-land-of-hustle.html)). I was thinking what this week’s article should be about. I instantly concluded that it has to make a lot of sense. So, I decided to dedicate it to strive for African unity. On that note, this week’s write-up which is a follow up to my previous article on the proposed African Union E-Passport and the African Day celebration would focus on the security implications of the proposed Africn Union Passports amongst other possible challenges.
In a previous article, titled; One Passport, One Continent, One Africa: Effects of The Proposed AU Passport on Intra-Continental Travel (https://shegzsablezs.blogspot.com.ng/2017/04/one-passport-one-continent-one-africa.html), I explained in explicit terms what the proposed E-Passport entails. Excerpts; “The African Union Electronic passports are for African citizens to be able to travel throughout the continent without visas. 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 will bear the African Union’s name and that of the issuing country. The diplomatic passport is in English, French, Arabic, Portuguese and Swahili”. (Oluwole Olusanya, 2017)
The African Union (AU) launched a pan-African passport sometimes in July last year. The idea behind the initiative is that the free movement of people will help create jobs and stimulate economic activity. This, in turn, would increase intra-African trade, boosting economic growth. The organization’s intention is that by 2018 the passport will be distributed to all African citizens. The AU envisages the issuing of a biometric passport, or electronic passport, which would use contactless smart-card technology. It was chosen instead of a traditional passport because there is a smaller chance of fraud. The concept has been strongly backed by a number of countries such as the Seychelles, Mauritius, Senegal and Rwanda. All have eased or lifted visa requirements for people travelling from other African countries. So far, Seychelles is the only country in Africa that has abolished visa requirements for all African countries, with Ghana, Mauritius and Rwanda having made great strides. Namibia and Zimbabwe have also made notable progress.
(The barriers to a pan-African passport may be insurmountable – Cristiano D’Orsi, University of Pretoria, South Africa July 20th, 2016)
The Perceived Challenges
The security challenge – President Michael Sata of Zambia noted that his country will not support calls for all African countries to use one passport for Africans to move freely around the continent and to enter other continents. President Sata said the issue of African countries using one passport will promote crime and other vices on the continent. He reminded everyone that Africa has the highest rate of crime in the world and using one passport will only make the movement of criminals easy. He said this during an Intergenerational Dialogue for Children and Youths Assembly at the United Economic Commission of Africa Headquarters (UNECA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Mr. Sata was responding to a proposal by a youth from West Africa to the African Union that the continental body should revisit its proposal for the continent to use one passport. The President noted that the African Union was a loose alliance whereas Zambia was a sovereign state that makes its own laws. “AU has no control over Zambia. Zambia makes its own laws,” he concluded. Perhaps, it is rather unfortunate that President Sata may be right after all, the introduction of the one passport for African nationals may impact negatively on intra-continental security. Boko Haram has done a lot of damage to some parts of Nigeria, Cameroun, Chad to mention a few, ISIL is reigning supreme in Libya, the Central African Republic has been in the news for its level of insecurity in recent times, Somalia is still battling insurgency and a lot of other African countries have their own episodes of conflicts and pockets of violence. The truth is that insecurity is still a major challenge in Africa.
The economic challenge – Regrettably, Africa is a continent where the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita for 2014, fluctuates from 32,557 USD in Equatorial Guinea and 20,032 USD in Gabon to 607 USD in Central African Republic (CAR), 801 USD in Burundi and 804 in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are we sure that issuing a unique passport for the entire continent will encounter the favor of the richest countries which would probably face a massive wave of migrants arriving at their borders? On this purpose, not by chance, South African President J. Zuma expressed relief at the Gaddafi’s fall, intending that, with the Libyan President in command, the AU wasted too much time in discussing about the opportunity to adopt a single passport for the entire continent, hypothesis not considered as practicable by the South African President. One of the challenges to the AU Passport is the economic situation of some African countries, it is an established fact that sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of poverty in the world. The African people has suffered a lot of neglect occasioned by bad governance and massive exploitation. The situation is compounded by the mad influx of migrant across the continent to countries with saner societies. The wave of xenophobic attacks in South Africa is a great attestation to this. My article titled; SOUTH AFRICA’S XENOPHOBIA ATTACKS: CHANGING “HATE” TO “LOVE” (https://shegzsablezs.blogspot.com.ng/2017/03/south-africas-xenophobia-attacks_23.html) provides abundant reference. (Oluwole Olusanya, 2017)
Other challenges are; many African countries lack the basic measures to roll out the initiative. For instance, they do not have access to the biometric systems needed to register the passports. Currently only 13 of the 54 AU members offer biometric passports. For instance, Algeria, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana and Tunisia, do not have them. Additionally, given the scale of these projects and the systems involved, lack of finance is also one of the biggest challenges to rolling out major e-Passport and e-ID schemes.
The Way Forward
In my previous article on the proposed E-passport, one of the issues I discussed was “Security”, I noted that the will to collectively combat insecurity among African countries would be significant improved. Excerpts; “Co-operation within Africa would be immeasurably improved. This is of utmost importance because Africa Leaders would be forced to share information and security and other crime prevention tips with regional neighbors and other distant African countries because a security breach or lapse in one country can result to significant crisis in others and collaboration would be further entrenched. However, an AU representative argues that it will be easier to track criminals and terrorists within the continent with the enabled Bio-metric chip” (Oluwole Olusanya, 2017)
We should not forget that the regional co-operation between countries affected by the Boko Haram insurgency played a notable role to decimate the insurgents. We would only achieve positive results if the proposed AU E-passport is seen as an opportunity to co-operate between African countries on the need to our brothers’ keeper. There is no gain playing down the challenge of insecurity, which has to be addressed collectively for any success to be recorded. I passionately believe that the AU E-passport is a step in the right direction.
On a final point, I would like to use the opportunity to remind my esteemed readers about our African Day Celebration which is slated for 25th May, 2017 at the Chartered Institute of Bankers’ House located in Victoria Island, Lagos. We have a lengthy list of confirmed speakers and there are other side attractions. Please note it on your to-do list for next Thursday because it promises to be a great event. See you there.
God Bless Africa, God Bless Africans
Olusanya, Oluwole Sheriff is a relationship officer with Sterling Bank Plc, Lagos.