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Pranjal Sharma

Pranjal Sharma has been analysing, commenting and writing on economic and development policy in India for 25 years. He has worked in print, TV and digital media in leadership positions and guided teams to interpret economic change and India’s engagement with the world

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United Africa, Crumbling Europe

The recent launch of an African Passport can unite the continent and boost its growth at a time the rest of the world is getting messier

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Europe made much of its wealth from exploiting its colonies, many in Africa. Colonial Europe did everything it could to ensure that African mindset remain enslaved.

Europeans played up the differences between the peoples and tribes while using every resource possible to gain at the expense of African countries.

The strange irony today is of a Europe that is crumbling and breaking apart while its former colonies work together in imaginative ways. The African Union (AU) is a 50 year old entity but it is coming into its own now by influencing its own region. From policing conflicts to encouraging regional markets, AU has been trying to nurture political and economic stability.

Earlier this month, the AU launched the African Passport for citizens of all countries at its summit in Kigali, Rwanda. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Idriss Deby of Chad who is also head of AU received the first passports. Initially it will be issued only to officials, diplomats and ministers of 54 countries. Over time it will be expanded to other categories of citizens. This is major step for creating a common market, a strong identity and economic integration.

Intra-Africa trade will grow as barriers will reduce. Already some regions like the East African Community have moved to a customs union. They also have an East African Tourist visa that covers Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.

Despite the lingering presence of a few conflict zones, political diversity and democracy are strengthening. The political debates in most countries are vibrant and voluble. The focus on investment is ensuring that many countries discourage pure trade arrangements with global sellers. The message is, Africa is not a traders market.

Africa is for those who want to invest in it.

This approach seems to be working well. According to an assessment by FDI Intelligence, direct investment in Africa grew 65% to $87 billion in 2014. Most capital investment in African countries is from aid, government or cheap sovereign credit by friendly non-African countries. Rising FDI also means that private capital is set to become more important part of the growth story.

Some countries like Kenya and Ethiopia have raised more than $1 billion each from global markets to leverage for higher private capital.

The African Passport will aid the economic integration. The plan is to use biometric data for the passports. So far few countries have it. For all countries to participate, a continent wide effort at creating a national citizen identity will have to be kicked off. The use of technology for such a plan will mean that governments will get more comfortable about using technology for delivering utilities.

Not every country wants visa free travel for all Africans. The economic disparity means that there could be unmanageable migration. There are several such issues that AU will have to resolve in a creative and constructive way. The passports can be issues in a phased manner to those with higher education and skills. Some filters could be applied to allow the idea to take root before it grows.

AU must not give up on this daunting task. Similar questions of utility and practicality were raised when India embarked on the national identity number for its 1.2 billion citizens. Today India can claim it to be a success and the identity is being used for various social and business initiatives.

The African Passport has the potential to spark many technology based initiatives that could change the way governments function. A United Africa would be an exciting, positive development in a world that is becoming messier.

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africa african union trade european union

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