African institutions have often been accused of being long on talk and short on action. A case in point is the deafening rhetoric about good governance by the likes of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU), while no action is taken against dictators in some of these organisations’ member countries who continue to lord it over their long-suffering citizens.
When The Pipe Smoking One (aka Thabo Mbeki) was the rotational chairperson of the SADC, he looked the other way as Robert Mugabe refused to let go of the levers of power after losing an election. It took the electoral commission yonks to count the votes and announce the results. Despite all evidence pointing to a landslide victory for Mugabe’s main challenger, the official result was that none of the candidates had garnered more than 50% of the votes to avoid a runoff, which Mugabe won courtesy of a brutal campaign of terror in opposition strongholds. One would have expected The Pipe Smoking One to at least call his northern neighbour to order, but he did absolutely nothing.
Cyril Ramaphosa is the current chairperson of the SADC. One of the key regional events that took place during his ongoing tenure was the recent election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), held last month, more than two years after the expiration of the second and final Presidential term of Joseph Kabila. The winner had not been announced at the time of writing, but a lot of worrying stuff had happened apropos of the manner in which the election was conducted. For starters, opposition parties complained about the use of electronic voting machines but were given short shrift. Secondly, the election had to be postponed by a week as some of the machines had been destroyed in a suspected arson attack on a warehouse. But perhaps more worrying was the postponement – to March – of voting in constituencies with more than 1.2-million registered voters. What if the winner, who should have been announced by the time you read this piece, only scrapes through with fewer than this number of votes?
One would have expected Ramaphosa to seek answers from the authorities in the DRC. But then again, he is not known for talking – and playing – tough. Remember, he shocked South Africans towards the end of last year when he told an interviewer that Bathabile Dlamini, that unmitigated disaster who nearly caused the collapse of the country’s social grants payment system, had suddenly become a super achiever who had “raised the bar” in her new role as Minister of Women’s Affairs.
Given the foregoing, one cannot fault the characterisation of African institutions as being long on rhetoric and short on action.
It thus came as a breath of fresh air when AU commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat announced on January 3 that he would be releasing the details of the new African passport during February, paving the way for the free movement of people across the continent.
For those who have just landed from outer space, the pan-African passport was launched in July 2016, when then Chadian President Idriss Deby and his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, received theirs from former AU commission chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The passport has, however, remained the privilege of heads of State and government and diplomats. For this reason, I was convinced that the aspiration for free movement by Africans on their continent was nothing more than empty talk. But it seems Africans are intent on walking the talk – at least on this score.
The new African passport is expected to bring about increased migration of Africans within the continent. It will also pave the way for the AU’s 2063 Agenda for “a continent with seamless borders”. Currently, Africans need visas to travel to 55% of the countries on the continent, can get visas on arrival in only 25% of the countries and do not need visas to travel to only 20% of the countries.
The continental passport will also allow our countries to benefit from intra-African tourism, which has been identified as one of the continent’s most promising sectors, and to ease the movement of goods between countries.