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African passport: turning point for integrated Africa we want

TO ALL those who are convinced that regional integration requires strong political will and committed leadership, African heads of state showed just that when they arrived in Kigali to attend the 27th African Union Summit, holding the future single African passport. The proposal to implement a single passport for Africa and the free movement of people is part of the African Union’s 2063 Agenda.
While sceptics may continue to doubt, we shall remain focused on delivering on our plan to transform Africa and working towards building a continent with seamless borders. We have reasons to be optimistic with the strong signal sent by the heads of state in Kigali.
Indeed, we are optimistic because, even if we are still at the very early stages of a complex process, holding a single African passport will mean that our leaders’ aspirations to see their citizens travel throughout the continent without being confronted with the usual administrative constraints, are attainable. Meeting these aspirations is critical if we want to achieve our vision of an integrated economic space where opportunities are shared among the people of Africa. Labour mobility is highly beneficial and can help fill Africa’s labour needs in the education, health and industrial sectors. Rwanda has seen a 22 percent increase of African tourism and business travellers since 2013 when it allowed Africans to obtain visas on arrival. The East region has made great progress in overcoming the challenges associated with the free movement of labour by encouraging the mutual recognition of professional and academic qualifications starting with engineers, architects and accountants.
The African Development Bank Bank’s Human Capital Strategy indicates that Africa needs about 4 million more teachers and 1–2 million more health workers. These shortages can partly be addressed by improving workers’ mobility and opening borders to allow health personnel, including nurses, midwives and biomedical engineers, to practise elsewhere on the continent.
The education sector can also profit from a borderless continent. In July 2013, the Bank announced the creation of a new US$154.2 million multinational science, innovation and technology Pan African University (PAU) in the next five years. This initiative should be strengthened and encouraged to facilitate cross-border inter-university mobility for students and lecturers. Ultimately, this should also address the technical skills deficit that is prevalent on the continent.
The Bank’s Board approved the industrialization strategy on July 14, 2016, and a key feature of the strategy is to encourage development of regional value chains and high value added activities and products for Africa’s commodities and exports. The diamond industry is an example as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) produces an estimated 60 percent of the world’s rough gem diamond. But to date, of the estimated 800,000 jobs in the cutting and polishing industry worldwide, only 8,000 are in the SADC region, representing less than 1 percent of the global workforce. This, indeed, is a lost opportunity for the 200 million youths in Africa, comprising over 20 percent of the continent’s population and making up about 60 percent of total unemployment in Africa. The question we should ask ourselves is, what skills, labour policies and training facilities are needed at regional level to enable SADC to bring the estimated 800,000 diamond cutters jobs back to the region?
The efforts that the Bank has made on the infrastructure front are commendable, with US$3.4 billion approved for multinational operations in 2015 alone, but we all agree and understand that, regional economic integration goes beyond building “hard” infrastructure. It is also important that we work on the “software” including easing the movement of skills to make our continent a destination of choice for investors.
The Bank is supporting a number of key initiatives to work on harmonizing regulations and policies with a view to facilitating labour mobility, an important enabler for the regional integration and economic development of the continent. One such initiative is the drafting of a new migration policy for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which should enhance talent mobility in the region.
In view of all this, I am hopeful that together, united in our diversity, we Africans can paint a picture of what we desire for ourselves and for future generations. The single African Passport is yet another milestone and we should not shy away from a little celebration, as Nelson Mandela once said: “remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead.”
The author is the director of the NEPAD Regional integration and trade department at the African Development Bank.