Do we expect its introduction to really open (m)any doors?
On Sunday the 17th of July, at the 27th African Union (AU) Summit, Ms Dlamini Zuma introduced the African Passport. This potentially ground breaking news, reaching us from Kigali, at this stage sounds far more exciting than it really is, although the related plans may well be labelled ambitious.
What exactly is the African Passport and why was it introduced?
Our previous article on visa openness and its effect on African economic growth, uploaded to our blog on the 28th of June, briefly touched upon the potential introduction of an African Union passport.
Intra-Africa trade is lagging compared to intra continental trade on other continents and the African Development Bank and other stakeholders are adamant to change this.
Visa policy was one of the identified factors believed to hinder growth.
More unity and an easier flow of people would unite Africa and strengthen its economy as a whole – this, in a sweet and short but rather blunt nutshell is the motivation to introduce the African Passport.
Does anything change already?
At this stage however the African Passport is only issued to heads of state, AU officials and high ranking government officials. The goal is to have individual countries issue the African Passport to citizens by 2018 – a deadline unlikely to be made; the complexity of administrative, legal and political negotiation needed to proceed is overwhelming. Moreover, there is no clarity yet on the exact implications for this passport.
The African Passport may be an interesting initiative but unless all African countries accept that these holders may travel visa-free, the passport amounts to nothing more than intention.
Especially South Africa, as the regional economic power attracting high numbers of fortune seekers, voices concern.
However, visa-free entry for short term visits (as proposed) does not mean that the Republic will suddenly drown in gold-seeking foreigners simply looking for a better life / job.
Visa-free entrance still requires visitors to hold a legal document, to register their date of entry and face the consequences when staying for longer than permitted.
Push & pull factors
South Africa’s greatest problem with migration and the related migrant labour is not the inflow of formal visitors. This group of formal visitors is certainly present but does not attract the attention of the worried masses, xenophobic outrage is far more likely to be directed at asylum seekers. South Africa attracts by far the highest number of asylum seekers in the region.
This burden is best relieved by helping to eliminate the reason these people are leaving home / coming to South Africa in the first place (push factors). Such reasons are grave motivators such as violent internal conflict, instability and a poor economic outlook. Initiating to build a Trump-like wall around South Africa (and so limiting the pull factor) is not likely to offer a real solution; the people are so desperate to leave their current situation behind that they will accept almost all risk to create better perspective.
One glance at the situation around Greece, where fathers place their children in rubber boats knowing that there is a fair chance they end up drowning, hoping for them to reach safety, establishes that a limit to what people are willing to do to get into a better situation does not exist.
Long term vision
Following the above the African Passport initiative ought not to worry South Africans in the security sense. We believe that the initiative, which is a precursor to the admirable plan to establish an African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), will add to the likelihood of an African success story. South Africa is advised to make sure it does not get isolated. Strong shoulders carry the heaviest burden. South Africa should be a play maker, an initiator and must avoid a situation in which it gets to spectate how the continent excels from the sideline.