This article represents what you can call a rant about how difficult it is for Africans to move around quite easily within their own continent. Although the African Union has taken a major step in closing this gap, recent events from within my personal circle necessitated this article. By the way, I have my concerns about the African passport too.
About three years ago I first came in contact with how real this problem was. I was an employee at a multi-national oil and gas firm. I worked at the regional office in Lagos (Nigeria) coordinating logistics operations across five African countries. As part of the role, I was scheduled to make a trip to Luanda as part of plans to work with the local team to optimize our operations there. The events that followed changed my views about the economic relationship of African countries with one another.
First of, I had to travel out of Lagos to Abuja to submit documentation. This wasn't a big problem I thought, perhaps there was not enough resources to have other offices. Furthermore, some other countries have the same model, it wasn't peculiar to Angola. The process was tedious, you would think I was relocating to Angola or maybe trying to get to one of the better developed nations. I had to travel twice to Abuja from Lagos to complete documentation. By the second trip, I was interviewed by an officer regarding the purpose of my trip.
At the end of the day I was denied a visa. This was regardless of the letter from our Angolan office. On probing further, I was told I was a minor. What? I was over 20 at this time. It beats me as to why this is so. If there was a law to this effect I find it strange. I still can't find anything online to this effect. My point is, why was it so difficult to get into another African country given the business-related purpose of the trip. This question came to me again when I learnt of someone missing out on a major business-related event in another African country because of a very outdated visa regime. This person was denied visa.
Time and time again, there are similar stories of honest African citizens trying to get business done across the continent. They meet with a very old, outdated and antiquated regulatory monster. Perhaps, Africa needs to be a country. Not in the geographic or cultural sense but in a more economic sense especially as it relates to movement of humans and goods/services across the continent.
During my work at the same firm, I had to manage movement of materials across Africa. It was more difficult, more expensive, in some cases impossible. This is when compared to moving stuff from China and the UK. Imagine my surprise, my anger, my worry. Is our continent really ready? It is easy to announce doom and complain about how difficult it is to solve this problem even despite the announcement of an African passport. Rwanda is a shiny example of what is possible. Citizens of all African countries can obtain a visa upon arrival. No hassles! Like the 2-day trip I made across Nigeria to be denied a visa. Rwanda didn't need a continental passport to make it happen. It has to do with the inventiveness of leadership and a vision that sees far beyond the present. Ghana, Nigeria's West African neighbor has followed suit.
Once we tackle the free movement of talent whether with or without a continental passport, the next thing should be to open up trade. Africa needs to really begin doing business with itself and very quickly too! One can only hope that the African Union and its member states properly implement their current plans to solve this problem. Africa needs Africa to develop!