Economic development does not occur in isolation, and neither does the end of extreme poverty. Instead of working individually, African nations are uniting to find ways to improve Africa’s economy and lower poverty rates. Their latest attempt involves the deployment of the African Union Passport, which allows African citizens to travel freely throughout the continent.
Extreme Poverty Crisis
Africa is the world’s second-fastest-growing economic region. Economic growth usually leads to higher employment levels and overall standards of living. Despite recent improvements in Africa’s economy, extreme poverty levels have not decreased as expected. Instead, they have continued to rise. With an average poverty rate of 41 percent, sub-Saharan Africa is the region suffering the most from extreme poverty. The World Bank Group concluded that most of the global poor reside in sub-Saharan Africa. This region is made up of almost all the African countries except Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.
Another problem plaguing the African continent is a lack of regional mobility. African residents face stricter restrictions to travel across the continent compared to their European counterparts. In fact, the free movement of people, as well as goods, throughout the African continent, has been virtually nonexistent. For instance, a Nigerian businessman reported that he had to apply for 38 separate visas to conduct intra-regional business.
Regional mobility is a factor that generally drives economic development. The free movement of goods can boost a country’s GDP while the free movement of people can fill gaps in the labor market. Intra-regional movement accounts for a significant portion of Europe’s economy. Around 70 percent of all trade in Europe is intra-regional. In Africa, intra-regional accounts for less than 15 percent. As a result, Africa is missing various opportunities to boost its economy and reduce extreme poverty.
The Africa Visa Openness Index
In 2016, the African Development Bank had the vision to build a global market in Africa. The group believed regional mobility and intra-regional trade created more attractive markets. As a result, the African Development Bank began to track each African country’s visa entry requirements. The group also measured how freely African citizens were able to move through the continent. The Africa Visa Openness Index reports the group’s findings.
The Index ranks each of the 55 African countries in terms of visa openness. The following factors were used to determine the rankings: visa required (low openness ranking); visa on arrival (medium openness ranking) and no visa required (high openness ranking).
The Africa Visa Openness Index has influenced several African nations to make improvements to their trade and visa policies. For example, two years after ranking 28th on the Index in 2016, Benin’s President Patrice Talon announced that the country will no longer require visas for other Africans.
The launch of the African Passport will be the final stage in facilitating the free movement of people and goods across Africa. Africa’s entire population, approximately 1.2 billion people, will have an African Union Passport. This passport will serve as the key to freely move between African nations.
The idea for the African Union Passport is not new. The concept was proposed and approved by all 55 African nations decades ago. However, the dream of regional mobility became a reality after Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Chadian President Idriss Deby unveiled the prototype of the passport in 2016.
By 2020, all Africans will have an African Union Passport. The goal of the passport is to discourage regional isolation by increasing accessibility to intra-regional travel, tourism and trade. By working as a unit, Africa has the chance to boost economic development and end extreme poverty.
– Paola Nuñez