Posts Tagged ‘AU’

African Passport

The African Union passport was unveiled yesterday (Sunday) at the AU Heads of State Summit in Kigali.

At the beginning of this week, a momentous development happened at the AU Heads of State summit in Kigali, Rwanda; the first ever copies of the African Union passports were issued to Rwanda President  Paul Kagame and AU Chairperson Idris Deby (Chad President). The two leaders are the first recipients of the new travel documents that will also be issued to other heads of states and top diplomats in the coming weeks.

It is believed that this new document will hasten the realizations of the continent’s dreams towards achieving Agenda 2063 which is anchored on African integration as a means of achieving the continent’s development objectives.

The role of issuing the new passports to ordinary citizens of Africa has however been left to the respective AU member countries. It’s still not clear whether there is a clear road map to be followed by the member states in issuing the travel document with enhanced security features. It could take a few more years before they are available to non-diplomats.

This announcement has been welcomed with a lot of excitement across the continent.

Chitonthozo Munyaradzi is a radio presenter in Kenya. He is half Zambian and half Kenyan (Dad from Zambia and mum from Kenya) but he still needs a work permit to be employed in Kenya despite the fact that his mum is from Kenya and that he went to school in Nairobi. To him this is a long overdue move:

“This is a great initiative that should have been realized yesterday. It sickens me that foreigners (people from outside Africa) get their visas at the airport while fellow Africans have to get visas in advance to visit their families!”

Roselyne Okeyo, a Kenyan lawyer who studied in South Africa, Botswana and the UK welcomes the idea but thinks that it’s still impossible to roll out the new documents by 2020.

“My first thoughts on it is that three years is such a small time frame to implement such an initiative. ..or should I say the visionaries are being over ambitious regarding the matter…”

The development though is a momentous one. It definitely rekindles the Pan-African hopes that the 32 founding fathers of the OAU had when they sat down on 25th May 1963 in Adis Ababa to give birth to the  union that is currently known as the AU.

That dream has been greatly dimmed by the travel and trade restrictions that subsequent African leaders either imposed or failed remove between themselves. In the pre-colonial era, African communities traded with each other across the continent with coastal cities of the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea being major trading points between people from East, West, North and South Africa.

Today, Africa trades more with China and Western countries than it does with itself. It’s more easy for citizens of the US and European Union to visit most African states than it is for citizens of other African countries. Out of the 53 states, only 13 states have opened their borders to African citizens without the necessity of acquiring a visa in advance. Ghana being the most recent to change it’s policy on advance visa.

Even though it’s still not clear what the real benefits of having an African Union passport will be, it is largely assumed by most citizens of the continent  that it will come with freedom of travel within the continent just the same way citizens of the EU travel freely within the borders of EU member states.

More open borders will definitely come with it’s challenges, but the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages as Dr. Cyprine Oduogo an International Relations & Diplomacy  lecturer at Maseno University’s School of Development & Strategic Studies in Kenya explains:

“We are in a situation where the continent is internally dealing with a lot of issues. Somalia has been at war for decades, something that has given rise to the terror group Al-Shabaab. There are fears of several ISIS backed groups in North and West Africa. The biggest challenge that this integration and open door policy will bring is importation of terror.”

Conflicts in Somalia, South Sudan, Central Africa Republic and Libya will possibly lead to refugees. How readily will African countries accept immigrants from these counties and provide them with equal treatment as their citizens? Even when they do, there are real concerns of pressure on the host economies.

“We however have positive examples from countries which have opened up their borders like Rwanda. The growth is immense and if the rest of Africa are to grow at par with such economies then the integration is a necessary evil,” adds Dr. Oduogo.

The prospects of integration are coming when other parts of the world are pulling away from similar unions. The EU just lost Britain less than a month ago with pressure increasing in France and other EU nations to follow suit. The reasons behind such disengagements provide a rich case study that African leaders and policy makers need to immerse themselves in before formalizing any integration pact.

Fredrick Ochieng’ a Kenyan who frequently travels within the continent thinks that the move will reduce illegal immigration into Europe and tackle ‘brain drain’.

“A lot of Africans travel to Europe when they cannot get opportunities in their own countries. If we had free access to all African countries a lot of people would look for opportunities closer home and help build African economies as opposed to going abroad where Africans face numerous challenges,” says Fredrick.

Even as we celebrate the dawn of a new Pan-African era with the continental passport, we have to align ourselves to the reality that there is more to real integration than a travel document. The cost of air travel between African states has to come down if we are to achieve the full benefits of integration. We still need better transport connection across the continent via rail and road networks for easier movements of goods and people.

More civic education need to happen before all these is realized. We have witnessed cases of Xenophobia in South Africa, citizens of Uganda and Kenya are regularly attacked and mistreated in South Sudan. There are teething problems and constant suspicion by Tanzanian citizens of the Kenyans who live and work there. The ideals of the Pan-Africanist founders of the continent such as Kwame Nkurumah and Mwalimu Julius Nyerere must be instilled on the current citizens of the continent.

Follow me on Twitter @IamOminde

This post was written for publication in the Africa Blogging network website.

 

 

 

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Burundi

Residents of Bujumbura walk past dead bodies lying on the streets on Saturday morning. PHOTO: JEAN-PIERRE HAREIMANA/REUTERS

On Saturday morning, the world woke up to news of fresh violence in Burundi that left 87 people dead, most of them shot at close range – some with their hands tied behind their backs. The military claimed that those who were killed were trying to break into a military armory to steal guns so that they can break into a police prison.

Friday night’s was one of the worst cases of violence since the botched coup attempt in May .

The situation in Burundi has been fragile for a while since the announcement by President Pierre Nkurunzinza that he will be running for a third term in office.

A BBC report says that “bodies on the streets of Bunjumbura is almost a daily occurrence.”

A report by the Amnesty International puts the death toll at 277 since April while Burundi based Human Rights monitors say the death toll is way over 350.

Among the recommendations of the report is a call on AU and the UN to ” work together urgently to address the human rights crisis in Burundi and to restore full respect for human rights.”

The report also emphasizes on the need for AU Commission Chair, Dr.  Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon “to travel to Bujumbura to press the government to end the current crackdown, beginning by lifting the legal and financial measures that target the human rights community.” This has been necessitated by Nkurunzinza’s crackdown on Human Rights NGOs which also involved freezing their bank accounts.

For about a month now some of the human rights groups were making claims that a”silent genocide” is underway in Burundi. As the new wave of violence swept through Bunjumbura on Friday night, opposition figures were calling on the world to shine its spotlight on Burundi’s crisis.

“Help us, the world needs to know that the genocide is underway,” said Jeremie Minani, spokesperson for a Burundian coalition known as Cnared folowing the death of the 87.

Events happening in Burundi remind us of what what happened in Rwanda and Burundi 21 years ago when the world watched in silence as millions were slaughtered in ethnic violence and several others displaced.

In the Central African Republic the world again watched until tens of thousands of lives were lost before France sent a peace keeping force.

Somalia has never known peace since the ouster of Mohamed Said Barre. The African Union through AMISOM only intervened decades later when the damage had already been done with little left to be salvaged.

In Kenya, when violence broke out following the 2007 general elections which the opposition claimed were stolen the world reacted with once voice and brought the violence to a stop. This was largely due to Kenya’s significant role as a key ally of the Western powers in the region.

Are we going to peg intervention in times of such crisis to how important nations are economically or politically to the West?

If there was a time that the narrative needed to changed, that time is now. We do not have to wait for 10,000 people to die before the world takes action.

In the aftermath of the Post-election violence in Kenya and the subsequent prosecution of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto at the ICC, the African Union piled a lot of pressure on the court and the UN to have the cases dropped – nothing for the victims.

Now would be a great time for the moribund continental union to reclaim itself by stopping the violence in Burundi and for once standing on the right side of history. It’s time it used the resources they used in trying to stop the cases at the ICC in marshaling nations to intervene in Burundi.

Our leaders, the AU and the UN will do nothing unless we directly start telling them that we care about what is happening across our borders. We have to ask our governments what they are doing to save the lives of innocent Burundians.

From Nairobi to Arusha, Kampala, Harare, Kigali, Johannesburg, Lilongwe and to the Capitals of Europe and America these voices against increased violence in Burundi must be heard.

Here in Kenya when the news of fresh violence broke out, Kenyans On Twitter responded by trending hash tags #PrayForBurundi #IstandWithBurundi and asking their government to intervene.

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Kenyans expressing shock at the images coming out of Bujumbura.

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Others even took a swipe at Social Media Networks

We are all doing our part but our eyes are trained on the Africa Union, African leaders and the United Nations. How many more people will die before they act?

This article was submitted for publication on http://www.africablogging.org.

Follow me on Twitter @IamOminde