In contrast to the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the European Union this summer, The African Union (AU) has moved further toward the free cross-border movement of goods and people with the launch of the new pan-African passport.
The AU will initially issue the new biometric or electronic passport only to African heads of state, foreign ministers and diplomats accredited by the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It will bear the AU’s name and that of the issuing country. The plan is for African governments to roll it out to their citizens by 2018.
The greatest threats to a borderless Africa lie in the prospect of increased risks to national security and heightened exposure to regional conflicts, contagion from public health crises and the movement of the jobless from many parts of the continent. African countries with strong economies tend to attract a large number of migrants from poor countries.
The lack of technological infrastructure and capacity to issue biometric passports is likely to create problems for many African countries. Only 13 of the 54 African countries currently offer biometric passports. Some countries have pledged to invest in biometrics however, with Liberia proposing to meet a February 2017 target.
Investment in new technologies, effective traveler identification management systems and integrated border controls will therefore be crucial to ensure that the AU passport is a security success.