The path to creating a unique passport for all Africans is fast approaching.

The African Union Commission will present the details of the design, production and issuance of the passport at the 32nd African Union Summit in February, said Moussa Faki Mahamat, President of the organization.

This unique passport aims to facilitate the free movement of people, stimulate economic growth, promote intra-African trade and create a “continent without borders”.

The announcement follows the AU’s launch of a single air market initiative to improve connectivity and reach a free trade agreement to establish a common market for goods and services. If the heads of state adopt the measures in February, this will pave the way for the issuance of the African passport in accordance with the respective national laws and regulations.

This is probably a boon for the citizens of African states, who hold one of the least powerful passports in the world. Traffic within the continent is also difficult for Africans: only Seychelles and Benin offer visa-free travel to all African travellers. And even when visa regimes are relaxing, travellers from countries like South Sudan and Burundi need visas to visit 48 and 47 African countries respectively.

Introduced for the first time in 2016, the African passport is still reserved for heads of state and other diplomats, with Chadian leader Idriss Deby and Rwandan President Paul Kagame being the primary beneficiaries. However, immigration experts from Member States met last July in Nairobi to discuss the technical specifications and security features of the document and how best to deploy it in the 55 AU member states.

Critics say it will be difficult to implement this initiative as many African states are already reluctant to migrants and refugees, and some have quietly tightened their visa rules. Faki, however, said the AU will insist on more integration, noting that “persistent obstacles to the movement of Africans within their own continent are simply unacceptable”.

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