As EU fights over migrants, African Union takes steps to free movement of people

The free movement of people is a key principle of the European Union, but it is being tested to the limit by the migrant crisis and the U.K's referendum on its future in the 28-country bloc. Meanwhile Africa is taking steps to establish the freedom of movement on its own continent.

The African Union (which consists of 54 African countries and was launched in 2002) announced this month that it planned to launch an electronic passport scheme in July. The electronic passport will facilitate visa-free travel among all the countries of the African Union.

Initially, only heads of state, government ministers and representatives of African Union will receive the passport. However, the intention is that each member state will be motivated to implement the laws and procedures required for visa-free travel and later issue an African passport to citizens.

The African Union aims for visa-free travel for all African citizens within the continent by 2020.

A meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia
Minasse Wondimu Hailu | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

"[This initiative is] a steady step toward the objective of creating a strong, prosperous and integrated Africa, driven by its own citizens and capable of taking its rightful place on the world stage," said Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chairperson of the African Union Commission, in a press release.

The news has been viewed positively by analysts.

"The launch of the e-Passport scheme is a welcome development that could re-inject a bit of momentum into the protracted regional integration process," said Malte Liewerscheidt, senior Africa analyst at risk strategists Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC in an email.

There have been some attempts at easing trade and investment in the continent. Some states in African have deals in place with one other; last year, 16 African nations signed an agreement to establish the Tripartite Free Trade Area.

"However, the process got bogged down in complicated negotiations focused on a traditional trade in goods agenda," explained Liewerscheidt.

"An initiative such as the e-Passport has the potential to revive this process and set a positive tone for negotiations towards the continental free trade agreement."

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