United States of Africa? African Union launches all-Africa passport

Story highlights

  • Proposed African Union passport would allow visa-free travel to all 54 member states
  • Logistical challenges make 2018 target ambitious

(CNN)As the European Union threatens to unravel in the wake of Britain's vote to leave, the African Union is pursuing a path of closer integration through the launch of a common passport that will grant visa-free access to all 54 member states.

The first of the electronic passports were unveiled at the AU summit in Kigali, Rwanda, where they were issued to heads of state and senior officials. The Union aims to distribute them to all African citizens by 2020.
"The opening ceremony was marked by a 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," the Union announced in a statement.
    The passports represent a key plank of the Agenda 2063 action plan, which emphasizes the need for greater continental integration, drawing on the popular vision of Pan-African unity. Freedom of movement has been a longstanding priority among member states, as enshrined in previous agreements such as the 1991 Abuja Treaty. Common passports have already been adopted for several regions, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

    Open door policy

    Currently, just 13 African states are open to all African citizens without advance visas, with many placing severe restrictions on travel. A recent report from the African Development Bank advised that easing entrance requirements would support economic growth, citing the case of Rwanda, which saw GDP and tourism revenues climb after abolishing visas.
    AU Director for Political Affairs Dr. Khabele Matlosa believes opening borders will have a profound effect for workers at the lower end of the scale.
    "We have a problem now that young people are risking their lives to cross the Sahara Desert or travel on boats to Europe," says Matlosa. "If we open opportunities in Africa we reduce that risk."
    The Director has been studying the examp