What barriers does an integrated Africa face?

Analysis: This past Sunday, July 11, the African Union (AU) launched the much anticipated e-passport system at its annual summit in Kigali, Rwanda. The pilot phase of the liberalized transcontinental immigration system will allow greater freedom of movement across the union and will first be introduced to AU heads of state, ministers of foreign affairs and permanent representatives at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The citizens of the 54 member countries can expect the e-passport to become fully available by 2018, but analysts believe that several barriers may delay full implementation. The e-passport (defined as such due to the electronic chip embedded in its cover) is the first step in the AU’s ambition to boost “intra-regional trade (currently the lowest in the world), integration and socio-economic development.” But lagging transportation and logistics infrastructure will need to also be advanced to allow for greater mobility of goods and people, lest the policy be voided as ineffective politicking.

There are also several detractor nations who likely see the troubles of the European project as amble writing on the wall. Notably, Egypt‘s ambassador to Ethiopia has been quick to dismiss the prospects of an e-passport. There are also concerns from South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya for having to shoulder the burden of a massive influx of economic refugees, as well as sizable security threats that more relaxed borders would present to countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Kenya, and Somalia.

Yet, Kenya has been one of the first nations to welcome a more integrated Africa, joining ranks with Rwanda, Ghana, Mauritius and Seychelles, who either have greatly relaxed or abolished travel restrictions for Africans.