About two weeks ago, the African Union (AU) launched a new electronic African passport which should allow visa-free travel for African citizens of the 54 member countries. In a statement announcing the launch, the AU said, “The scene seems to be set to realize the dream of visa-free travel for African citizens within their own continent by 2020.”

The idea behind the initiative is that the free movement of people will help create jobs and stimulate economic activity. This, in turn, would increase intra-African trade, boosting economic growth. The organisation’s intention is that by 2018 the passport will be distributed to all African citizens.

The concept has been strongly backed by a number countries, such as the Seychelles, Mauritius, Senegal and Rwanda. All have eased or lifted visa requirements for people travelling from other African countries.

Movement toward this goal has already begun: Chadian President Idriss Déby and Rwandan leader Paul Kagame were presented with the first passports at the 27th African Union Summit in Kigali, Rwanda. The passport features inscriptions in five languages—English, French, Arabic, Portuguese, and Swahili. (Initially, the document will be available only to diplomats and state and government officials.)

As of now, Africans must have visas to visit more than half of the countries on the continent; there are only 13 African countries that allow African travelers to enter without a visa. Meanwhile, Americans can visit 20 countries within Africa without need for a visa.

However, the excitement generated by the launch of the AU passport needs to be tempered with a dose of reality, if the opinions of experts are considered. For example, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, has said that the passport may not achieve the desired result if it does not have legal framework to support it. Onyeama said that lack of a legal framework might impede the aim of the passport because member states of the AU would not be bound to allow free movement into their countries without visas.

Using the example of ECOWAS, he said, “The ECOWAS passport is hinged on a treaty that recognises free movement of peoples and each country has ratified that so the issuance of passport is just to give effect to what has been agreed by the countries.

“In the case of the AU, there has been no treaties ratified by the member states accepting the concept of a continental free movement of peoples so if you are issuing this AU passport it has no legal base to it,” Onyeama said.

He noted that declarations by Heads of States of AU countries do not have legal effect in the countries because every country has a rule and mechanism for giving effect.

“We (Nigeria) have a national assembly that has to domesticate and ratify such a treaty and it has to be signed before allowing anyone that has this passport to come into the country.’’

Against this backdrop, TeamAfrica, a Pan-African Travel Association for players in African travel, tourism and hospitality, has said that visa on arrival for all Africans is the way to go rather than the symbolic AU Passport.

TeamAfrica pointed out the difficulty in implementing the Yammousokro Decision to open African skies for aviation which has not been implemented since 1999.

Members of TeamAfrica who discussed the issue exhaustively agreed that the launch of the AU document is noteworthy but symbolic as it has no real value as at now. They contend that the immediate implementation of visa on arrival for all Africans is easier to Implement and adopt.

Ghana recently joined Rwanda and Seychelles in implementing visa on arrival for all Africans to great success. They recommend the same route as a faster way of integrating Africa while discussions on the modality of how implementation of the AU Passport is being worked out between member nations.

The ECOWAS region was the first to launch free movement protocol among its15 member countries with little or no negative impact despite the huge population within the region. Recently regional blocs in the East and South of Africa have all implemented free movement protocol for regional citizens. Some regions have also implemented joint visa for the regions like the EAC tourism Visa for three countries in East Africa.

The next linkage may be free movement protocol between the regions. ECOWAS and the EAC group can sign an MOU and bring this about long before the targeted date of 2018 for AU Passport launch for citizens.

TeamAfrica is a body desirous of faster integration between African countries. It aims to grow travel within Africa by jointly promoting events within Africa and pressure governments to adopt policies that encourage intra-African travel. Its landmark project is the expected launch of the search for the 21 wonders of Africa.

Jovago Becomes Jumia Travels

Africa Internet Group, has consolidated its various online trading platforms into one new brand to be known as Jumia, as it aims to become Africa’s number one online destination. Following this development, which was revealed recently, all it existing platforms have been rebranded as Jumia.

Jovago, which is a dedicated platform for hotel bookings is now Jumia Travel; Kaymu, for fashion and electronics is now Jumia Market; Hellofood is now now Jumia Food; Vendito is now Jumia Deals; Lamudi now Jumia House; Everjobs now Jumia Jobs and Carmudi now Jumia Cars. With a new vision of ‘expand your horizons,’ Jumia now offers access to products and services from its leading platforms.

Speaking on this new move, the Managing Director of Jovago Nigeria now Jumia Travel, Kushal Dutta, described it as a new vista and leap for the company. He said: “This is a big leap forward for us as a group. We have worked really hard to build our brands and this synergy will open more doors of opportunity for us as a company.

With this move, we can assure those who book on Jumia Travel world class services at the most affordable prices every single time.”

Virgin ‘s Exclusive Cocktails at Heathrow

Virgin Atlantic has launched a range of exclusive cocktails for guests at its Heathrow Clubhouse. The “travel inspired, botanical” cocktails have been created by Mr Lyan, bartender of the Dandelyan bar at the Mondrian London.

They include the ‘Diamond Daisy’ (pictured) containing Barcardi Carta Blanca, Riesling, pandan, cavolo nero and lime. As part of the collaboration the Dandelyan team will take up a week’s residency at Virgin’s Heathrow T3 Clubhouse, as part of a “Five Up” season that will see bars from around the globe delivering bespoke cocktail menus in the mezzanine area of the Clubhouse. First up will be Hong Kong’s Quinary between August 1 and 7, followed by LA’s Hinoki and the Bird from August 8 to 14, then Dandelyan between August 15 and 21, New York’s Employees Only from August 22 to 28, and finally San Francisco’s Bourbon and Branch from August 29 to September 4. Several of the bars have also created bespoke cocktail menus for the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses in their corresponding cities.