By Mboneko Munyaga – From Citizen Digital
It can be rightly argued that colonialism interrupted Africa’s migration process after the continent was carved into parcels of administrative territories, with each answerable to a foreign power and the people turned into chattels of other nations. Either, it is no secret that the people of Africa are one but years of being told that they were different finally took a toll on their collective psyche such that even after years of independence, many countries still stressed the fallacy that they were unique or special.
It is within that background that the recent African Union (AU) decision to issue all Africans in the organisation’s 54 member states with a common passport should be seen as a real milestone in the long match by Africans to re-member that which was torn asunder by colonialism. A common passport means Africa is the common home of all Africans and home is the only place where no one can ask you: “Why are you here?”
The quest for a common passport had been on the AU’s agenda for the last 25 years but it can also be rightly said that an Africa for Africans constituted the very essence of forming the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the AU’s predecessor in 1963, with some independence leaders such as Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah calling for a “United States of Africa,” now.
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So, I believe, those leaders, many of whom have since gone the way of the ancestors, must have turned in their graves with a big smile when President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Idriss Deby of Chad became the first sons of the continent to receive the first two common African passports at the ordinary 27th AU summit held in Kigali, Rwanda on July 17, 2016. The passports are expected to be available to ordinary citizens by 2018. In any case, it is a very good step forward.
There are many advantages for more open borders for Africans in Africa. In the first place, due to historical reasons partly mentioned above, Africa has had to live with a very shameful legacy and contradiction in terms that on many instances, the continent has been more open to foreigners than to fellow Africans. A common passport, therefore, shall lead to greater socio-economic integration of the people which should in turn lead to greater intra-African trade and higher economic growth.
A common African passport certainly presents a number of challenges which should spur and inspire more sophisticated solutions instead of acting or being seen as impediments. For instance, instead of fearing that the passports could be abused by terrorists, nations will have to be more vigilant with border control and pour more resources in the area as a priority for national security. Thus, more countries shall have to join the e-passport loop in order to be able to read the biometric features of the common passports.
African countries too shall have to widen their scope of human and people’s rights to ensure and guarantee hassle-free stay and travel for law abiding citizens and bona fide holders of the common passports from other nations. Otherwise, there could be a spike in intra-African diplomatic crises involving the rights of one nation’s citizens in another African country, which at most would be extremely embarrassing.
In short, Africa also shall have to adopt more or less similar standards for law and order practices otherwise it would be meaningless for holders of the common passport to travel to one country only to land in a situation of social and civil strife.
In conclusion, it should be borne in mind that the idea of visas within Africa was an extremely alien idea. Throughout the ages until colonialism set in, Africans travelled and criss-crossed the continent freely with strangers being quickly absorbed into communities of their kinsmen according to their totems. The totems, whether natural objects or animals, were and still are very significant emblems of African identity and belonging.
During a recent visit to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, the author – who is from Lake Victoria in Tanzania – found himself in a discussion on African roots according to totems. It turned out that he was related to one extremely beautiful girl in the group who, like him, was also from the Baboon clan! In times past, he would have gone home with her as he had already found a “relative.” That alone was enough to guarantee him the right of establishment in society with all rights and no discrimination. It is the Africa we have lost.