The Unsettled barriers to a Pan-African Passport

In its just-ended summit in Kigali, the African Union Commission discussed the steps the organization would take to introduce a pan-African passport.

Nkosazana Dhlamini Zuma, the chairperson of the AUC, said a pan-African Passport is a “steady step toward the objective of creating a strong, prosperous, and integrated Africa driven by its own citizens and capable of taking its rightful place on the world stage.” In her mind, it yields some sort of solution to some of Africa’s long-standing problems.

Many across the continent seem excited about a continental African passport that will put an end to trade barriers and non-access to borders by nationals of other African countries. Many also think that it’s a remarkable road-map to developing unity among African Countries – the dream of the United States of Africa, as proposed by Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first head of state.

Nkrumah helped free his native country from British rule in 1957 and yet said, “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up to the total liberation of Africa.”

In May 1993, in Addis Ababa, at a meeting of thirty-two African heads of states, he further warned, “African Unity now or we perish.” Moreover, he admonished his comrades to lay down foundations for the United States of Africa for it would be late in the future.

He brilliantly deliberated on the need for a single African monetary system, defense mechanism, currency, and passport. Unfortunately, his proposals were rejected.

As people, have exuberantly subscribed to the idea of a pan-African passport, the realities they fail to see is the effects of the colonial boundaries coupled with the hate it has created in Africa. The unsettled barriers which many have still not seen are the problems that need to be remedied first in achieving an African passport which will gradually lead to genuine steps towards unity.

There are still a lot of barriers to be remedied, one of which is xenophobia in countries like South Africa. In April of 2015, we saw awful, violent, and brutal acts committed against other Africans by South Africans who claimed that they stole their jobs.

Many were tortured, burned, wounded, while some lost their lives. In addition, countries like Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan have migration restrictions. Nationals of other African countries require visas before entering these territories.

Today in Africa, when an African from Morocco tells you that he’s a Moroccan, it is quite different from an American in America saying he’s from Colorado. The intentions are just different!

The Americans see themselves as the same and they would generally do anything to protect their union. People are not judged based on which state they come from.

The idea of producing a pan-African passport is awesome, but what needs to be prioritized most is ending the hatred that Africans still practice against one another.

The current breed of leadership in Africa, as George Ayittey would put, “is very different from the ideological traditional breed of leadership that emerged in the 60’s and 70’s.” The leaders in the 60’s and 70’s such as Nkrumah, Nyerere, and Sekou Toure were pan-African conscious and were willing to sacrifice anything for the attainment of African Unity.

In February of 1966, when Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown, Sekou Toure called him and made him vice president of Guinea. Furthermore, when Miriam Makeba was exiled from South Africa following her subsequent harassment by the US government, she went to Guinea and was appointed as Guinea’s official delegate to the United Nation. There are so many instances of such, like Nyerere giving Makeba a Tanzanian Passport, and Guinea giving Stockley Carmichael (Kwame Ture) and his family a space to stay.

The pondering, yet unanswered question is, do we currently have leaders like those of the 60’s and 70’s to pursue this cause? Until we have that generation of leaders in Africa, a pan-African passport will be fruitless and a mere cliché.

While I’m not pessimistic about the passport, I think a lot must be done to achieve the dreams of our revolutionary fathers. Unity is significant to that dream. With united Africans, a united Africa is sure.


Written by:  Ansumana Konneh

Mr. Konneh is a African writer and columnist.
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