The unveiling of African passports at the opening ceremony of the 27th Ordinary Session of Assembly of the African Union (AU) in Kigali, Rwanda is monumental and a turning point for our quest for continental integration.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, handed two representational African passports to President Paul Kagame and to the chairperson of the African Union, President Idriss Deby of Chad, and this gesture was more than ceremonial.
The move to launch the African passport was reached during the Summit in January this year, with the AU deciding that the passport would be launched in Kigali, starting with the heads of state and government, foreign ministers, and the leadership of the representatives of the AU executive councils.
Indeed this significant step serves to underline the political will and importance African leaders attach to the free movement of goods and services and to economic and political integration in the African context. Integration would facilitate seamless mobility of Africans and ease trade and other barriers that have previously obstructed intra-continental trade to the disadvantage of all Africans.
Underneath the African soil is a staggering array of minerals, namely, platinum, coltan, gold, diamonds, uranium, cobalt, copper, zinc, silver, bauxite, vermiculite and others just too numerous to mention.
Most importantly Africa has a sea of people expected to expand to 2.8 billion by 2060. Africans should benefit from the potential social and economic benefits that will result from population growth. But this benefit could elude us if we do not judiciously implement the right policies and plans of action.
Time and again we have been reminded this is Africa’s moment but alas a starvation of pragmatic, forward-looking policies and an individualistic approach resulted in the African dream being deferred.
Africa has political temerity and a galaxy of intellectuals and scientists both on the continent and in the diaspora who could come in handy to guide us to our promised land of milk and honey. The good news is that with the right policies and actions Africans can accelerate the region’s transition to smaller families, healthier and better-educated youth, and an expanded job market if policymakers make the right decisions as was the case last Sunday in Kigali.
The benefits of having an integrated African economy outweigh by far the benefits of having small economic blocs that at most often comprise of four countries. Of course there are problems posed by such integration but we should find a way to circumvent these problems, for the benefits are just too tempting and there is no time for indecision and foot-dragging.
Regional integration is a must if Africa is to compete with other countries that have transitioned from developing to developed countries. Although Africa has been growing at unprecedented rates over the past decade, the continent’s international trade remains low, pointing to an important source of growth that remains unexploited.
This is very different from the path of Asia: trade in this region more than doubled between 1995 and 2010 whereas trade in sub-Saharan Africa has largely stalled at a mere 2 percent of world total. And despite efforts aimed at diversifying the export base, African exports remain highly focused on commodities – they account for over half of sub-Saharan exports compared to just about 10 percent for Asia and for advanced economies.
The Asian success story holds an additional lesson for Africa. By fostering regional integration, Asia was able to create regional value chains and thus become more efficient. The newly unveiled African Union passport will give us a ladder to reach greater economic heights.