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Africa Unveils All-Africa Passport — But So Far Only 2 People Have One

What's red and gold and hailed by most economists?

The new African Union passport, unveiled this week at the African Union Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, promises a solution to a major drag on African trade: the red tape that makes it harder for African businesspeople, tourists and workers to travel around their own continent.

More than half of the 54 African countries require entry visas for other Africans, according to the Africa Visa Openness Report.

Those visas can take days or weeks to apply for, and they make everything more difficult — from hiring foreign staff to traveling on a weekend safari to selling goods across borders.

Currently, intra-African trade is at 11 percent — the lowest level of intra-continental trading in the world. (Asia is way above 40 percent.) And the future of African economies depends more on increasing trade among Africans than making deals with China. (Indeed, the rise of the Asian tiger economies in the 1990s was largely spurred by intra-Asian trade.)

Across Twitter, people have been sharing their thoughts of the new passport with the hashtag #AUPassport.

The reactions ranged from joyous ...

To skeptical ...

To snarky ...

Others noted that in a time when nativist rhetoric is gathering steam around the world, from Brexit to Donald Trump's Mexican Wall, it was refreshing to see the African Union take the opposite step — to make borders more porous.

But here's the catch: Unless you are Rwandan President Paul Kagame or Chadian President Idriss Deby (the sole holders of the two existing passports), ordinary Africans can't yet get the all-Africa passport. It's unclear when the red-and-gold booklets will be distributed. For now, citizens will still be standing in those long embassy lines.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.