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Is the African Union passport a potential game changer?

by Tsitsi Mutendi

Whilst the option of off-continent citizenship is alluring, there is a development that may make Africa a formidable global player. The African Union Passport is a common passport document that is set to replace existing nationally issued AU member state passports and exempt bearers from having to obtain any visas for all 55 states in Africa.

It was launched on July 17, 2016, at the 27th Ordinary Session of the AU that was held in Kigali, Rwanda, by Rwandan President Paul Kagame and the late Chadian President Idriss Deby. As of June 2018, the passport was planned to be rolled out and ready for use at borders worldwide by 2020. However, the rollout has since been delayed.

There are three types of AU passports that will be issued:

Ordinary passport

These passports are issued to citizens and are intended for occasional travel, such as vacations and business trips. They contain 32 pages and are valid for five years.

Official/Service Passport

These passports are issued to officials attached to government institutions who have to travel on official business.

Diplomatic Passport

Issued to diplomats and consuls for work-related travel, and to their accompanying dependents.

According to the AU website 

“Aspiration 2 of Agenda 2063 envisions “An integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance” and Aspiration 5 envisions “An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, shared values and ethics.”

To achieve these aspirations of African’s seeing themselves as one people united under the ideals of pan-Africanism, the physical and invisible barriers that have prevented the integration of Africa’s people need to be removed.

The Agenda 2063 flagship project, The African Passport and Free Movement of People, aims to remove restrictions on Africans’ ability to travel, work and live within their own continent. The initiative aims at transforming Africa’s laws, which remain generally restrictive on the movement of people despite political commitments to bring down borders with the view to promoting the issuance of visas by Member States to enhance the free movement of all African citizens in all African countries.

The free movement of persons in Africa is expected to deliver several key benefits, including:

• Boosting intra-Africa trade, commerce and tourism;

• Facilitating labor mobility, intra-Africa knowledge and skills transfer

• Promoting pan-African identity, social integration and tourism; 

• Improving trans-border infrastructure and shared development.

• Fostering a comprehensive approach to border management;

• Promoting rule of law, human rights, and public health

The Department of Political Affairs leads the AU’s integration efforts as regards the ability of Africans to live and work within the continent and works with member states to identify opportunities to remove barriers to movement by Africans within Africa.

One of the pillars of Agenda 2063 is the free movement of natural persons on the continent, which is partly predicated on an African passport. However, for many Africans, free movement remains a dream.

Progress to-date

  • The Protocol to the Treaty on the Establishment of the African Economic Community relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence, and Right of Establishment was adopted in January 2018 together with a comprehensive implementation roadmap;
  • Popularization of the Protocol on Free Movement of persons has been undertaken—involving undertaken – involving the Member States and RECs with a view to achieving the requisite 15 ratification for the Protocol to come into force;
  • 32 Member States have signed the Protocol; only one Member State, Rwanda, has ratified it; and
  • Guidelines on the design, production, and production and issuance of the African Passport were endorsed by the AU-STC on Migration, Refugees, and Internally Displaced Persons in November 2018 and subsequently adopted by the AU Assembly in February 2019.


  • There has been a slow pace of signature and ratification of the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons;
  • Restrictive visa regimes in some AU Member States, which constrain cross-border movement of persons;
  • A strong perception of security threats posed by the free movement of persons;
  • Weak technical capacities of Member States in producing and issuing the African Passport to African citizens; and
  • The slow pace of compliance by the Member States to start issuing visas on arrival to all African travelers.

Next Steps

  • Enhance advocacy efforts and popularize the Protocol and African Passport; motivate for designating a sitting Head of State or Government as the champion for free movement of persons and the African Passport;
  • Support Member States to put in place policies that allow the issuance of visas upon arrival and progressively strive towards the abolition of visas in the future;
  • The AU Peace and Security Council, in collaboration with the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa and other related mechanisms at the level of RECs will continue to facilitate debates on the security implications and benefits of free movement of persons;
  • Working in collaboration with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) provides necessary technical backstopping to the Member States in producing and issuing the African Passport to African citizens;
  • The AU Member States are to put in place appropriate systems at all ports of entry to facilitate quick access to relevant information.

In recent years, we’ve seen African countries open their doors to foreigners looking for an African passport. The AU is trying to emulate what the European Union has done with its passports. Of course, all countries get to decide their own citizenship and immigration services, but the passport issued is going to be singular.

This definitely makes it pretty easy for anyone who’s interested in acquiring African dual citizenship because you can essentially go where you want. To date, some of the most powerful passports in Africa are those of South Africa, Ghana, and Mauritius.

These countries offer dual citizenship programs with a few conditions, which can generally be met easily if you want. Following their lead, there’s been an increase in African nations offering dual nationality to foreign citizens. 

If you’re an entrepreneur, possessing African second citizenship might be in your best interests if you’re looking for a chance to be ahead of the curve. There are plenty of benefits to having businesses in Africa.

You simply need to know where to look.  Six out of the ten fastest-growing economies in the world are present in the region. This means that any investment or business you decide to run in the region will definitely succeed.

Many entrepreneurs will tell you that it’s a brilliant idea to operate out of such economies because, in addition to the profits you’ll make, there’s room for exponential growth. Furthermore, you can even take advantage and bring in new industries that haven’t been explored in the region yet. The laws are definitely more accommodating than in the West. 

Limited Dual Citizenship in Africa

Only Ghana, Tunisia, and South Africa allow dual citizenship. Malawi (71st worldwide, 7th in Africa) has a movement to legalize dual citizenship and Namibia (68th worldwide and 5th in Africa) allows it only in cases of citizens who have obtained citizenship by birth or descent, as long as the laws of the other country allow dual citizenship.

The other countries among the top ten that do not allow dual citizenship include:


World Rank: 72 – Africa Rank: 8

Naturalization in Tanzania requires at least seven years of residence during a ten-year period.


World Rank: 71 – Africa Rank: 7

Swazi citizenship can be obtained under two different circumstances:

  1. You have lived in the country for at least five years and have contributed to the development of the country, or
  2. You are a foreign investor willing to open a business in Swaziland that would employ Swazi citizens.
The Gambia

World Rank: 71 – Africa Rank: 7

Though an aspiring developing offshore jurisdiction, naturalization in this West African country requires 15 years of continuous residency and renunciation of any other citizenship, making it a rather unattractive option for residency or citizenship.


World Rank: 70 – Africa Rank: 6

Naturalization in Kenya requires an aggregate of four years of residency throughout a seven-year period and knowledge of the Swahili language.

Zambia used to forbid dual citizenship but now allows it.

The best countries in Africa to keep on your radar

The following are the countries that either allow dual citizenship, offer economic citizenship, or are countries to keep on your radar for investment, business, and banking.


World Rank: 73 – Africa Rank: 9

Ghana is one of the most stable countries on Africa’s west coast and has one of the freest economies in all of Africa. In fact, Ghana scored higher than France for economic freedom and ranks much higher than the United States for freedom of the press.

Ghana’s capital, Accra, was ranked by the Nomad Capitalist as one of the most livable frontier market cities in the world.

Investment is one of Ghana’s strengths and the country is expected to experience 32.7 percent capital growth over the next five years. Another plus is that Ghana permits foreign property ownership and—along with telecommunications, financial services, energy, and manufacturing—real estate provides a strong investment opportunity.

Ghana’s passport is the ninth most powerful passport in Africa and the 73rd most powerful in the world, allowing visa-free travel to 64 countries.

Ghana is one of the few countries on this list that allows dual citizenship. To qualify for naturalization, you need to have lived in Ghana for the entire year before submitting your application and at least five out of the seven previous years.

While English is widely spoken throughout Ghana, you must be able to speak and understand a Ghanaian language and intend to permanently reside in Ghana to qualify, as well.


World Rank: 72 – Africa Rank: 8

Both Tanzania and Tunisia ranked 72nd on the Visa Restrictions Index, which makes them both the eighth most powerful passports in Africa with visa-free travel to 65 countries.

Tunisia is among the more prosperous African nations — due in large part to its location in the center of North Africa along the Mediterranean. Dual citizenship is allowed and naturalization only requires five years of residency and a knowledge of the Arabic language.

Though it is one of the few nations on this list that offers dual citizenship, Tunisia has its challenges for someone looking to do business in Africa. Tunisia was the catalyst for the Arab Spring and, though it has been relatively stable in the past few years, has recently experienced another bout of violence (this time mostly against foreigners) provoked by the growing influence of ultra-conservative Islam.


World Rank: 66 – Africa Rank: 4

Botswana doesn’t offer dual citizenship. The southern nation of Botswana is one of the shining development success stories in the entire region of Africa. As one of Africa’s freest economies, it has grown to be an upper-middle income economy comparable to Chile and Argentina, with the highest average annual growth rate in the world of nine percent. Corruption in Botswana is the lowest on the continent, with levels comparable to Spain.

The government has consistently churned out budget surpluses, earning it the highest sovereign debt rating on the continent. Best of all, the government recently reduced taxes from 25 to 22 percent.

This is the kind of government that will turn Botswana into the next Singapore.

Among other positives, poverty is decreasing, education is becoming widespread, the country has few extradition treaties, and Botswana is widely regarded as being much safer than most of Southern Africa and is home to one of the most livable frontier market cities with great shopping, eating, and weather and an English-speaking population.

Overall, Botswana has the fourth most powerful passport in all of Africa (66th worldwide), allowing visa-free travel to 72 countries. Naturalization requires 10 years of residency and dual citizenship is not permitted, but Botswana has so many of the right fundamentals in place that it is one to keep an eye on in case things change.

South Africa

World Rank: 54 – Africa Rank: 3

Surprisingly, second citizenship in South Africa will only get you the 54th most powerful passport in the world. The ranking was good enough, however, to place South Africa in third place among the most powerful passports in Africa. Citizens of South Africa can travel to 97 countries without a visa. South Africa does not have an economic citizenship program, but it does allow dual citizenship.

There are two catches, however. The first is that naturalized citizens cannot apply for dual citizenship AFTER they have been naturalized; the second is that any individual seeking second citizenship must inform the government BEFORE that second citizenship is attained or their South African citizenship will be revoked.

For those who choose to seek a second passport, however, there are three main options for doing so. The first option is to apply for naturalization.

To do so you must have a valid permanent residence permit and have had one year of ordinary residency immediately prior to your application, plus an additional four years of physical residence within the past eight years.

Your second option is to prove that you can sustain yourself financially by showing you have a personal estate of at least ZAR7.5 million (just under $500,000 USD).

The third option is marriage, which changes the requirements for naturalization. Once you have your permanent residency, you need only two years of permanent residence and two years of marriage to a South African spouse prior to your application.

For those looking to do business or to invest instead of applying for citizenship, take note that South Africa is not very welcoming to outsiders. The government’s position on reversing discrimination is to discriminate against property rights and capital investment, including through a campaign of expropriation and laws banning foreigners from owning land.

The final two countries on this list leave South Africa and most of the other countries mentioned well behind them in the rankings and in their desirability as offshore jurisdictions.


World Rank: 35 – Africa Rank: 2

A small island in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius has long been a haven for Africans and Asians as one of the best places in Africa for investment. Not only does the island attract a large amount of tourism, but it is also an excellent option for offshore bank accounts, web hosting, and companies.

The Mauritius government consistently obtains high rankings for democracy and economic and political freedom. It ranked 15th in the world for economic freedom in 2016, has high ratings for freedom of the press, and is one of the World Bank’s top 20 countries for doing business. As investment in Africa increases, look out for Mauritius to become a Hong Kong of sorts as one of Africa’s key offshore financial centers.

It is no surprise that this multiethnic, multi-religious, multicultural, and multilingual country offers the second most powerful passport in all of Africa, 35th worldwide with visa-free travel to 128 countries, including Europe’s Schengen area.

Mauritius offers the continent’s most attractive economic citizenship program: with an investment of $500,000 in real estate or business, you can automatically qualify for permanent residence. Once you have resided in Mauritius for a continuous period of at least two years, you can apply for naturalization. Unfortunately, however, Mauritius does not allow dual citizenship. 


World Rank: 31 – Africa Rank: 1

The most powerful passport in all of Africa is found in one of the fastest improving economies in the world on yet another island nation off Africa’s east coast. The Seychelles passport is ranked as the 31st most powerful passport in the world and will give you visa-free access to 133 countries, including Europe’s Schengen Area.

One of the greatest strengths of the Seychelles passport is that, as of December 2015, it is one of only two passports in the world that allow visa-free travel to both Russia and China.

Seychelles is one of the few countries on this list that has an economic citizenship program, although it’s not the most attractive offer out there.

If you are willing to invest $1 million in a business, have accumulated 11 years of residency, and are not opposed to renouncing all other citizenship, you can get a passport in Seychelles.

Instead of seeking residency and citizenship in Seychelles, it has other important characteristics an international entrepreneur should be looking for.

For instance, Seychelles is a good jurisdiction for setting up a non-transactional offshore company as it is arguably the best place in the world to form a closely-held offshore corporation. Seychelles does not impose reporting requirements or complex annual filings on the companies there, either. You simply pay an annual fee to keep the company in good standing.

Seychelles is also an up-and-coming offshore banking jurisdiction, with a reputation as a haven for bank secrecy due to its long-standing secrecy policy with offshore corporations in which it does not maintain information on a company’s beneficial owner.

If you were to seek citizenship in Seychelles, you would then be required to pay taxes on interest earnings. However, if you sought citizenship in a zero- or low-tax jurisdiction in another country and then set up your company in Seychelles, you wouldn’t have to worry about being taxed.

African Citizenship Programs Available to You 

The newest countries to join the dual citizenship program in Africa are Malawi, Liberia, and Ethiopia. Of course, do note that you’re still going to have to go through with the whole permanent residence procedure like any other country.

This is perfect for those who’re looking to become permanent residents on their way to dual citizenship, as you’ll be expected to physically live in said country for an entire year at least.


The latest country to announce dual citizenship is Malawi. In terms of travel documents, Malawi isn’t at the top of the list, nor is it at the bottom. However, if you’re interested in setting up ventures there, it can be an interesting dual citizenship combination.

You can easily get into Singapore and Malaysia with a Malawian travel document. Overall, it’s a pretty decent place to live. The government isn’t too tyrannical. You’ll first become a permanent resident before eventually getting your dual citizenship.


The other dual citizenship news is from Liberia, whose government announced a loophole that has given way to dual citizenship. It used to be illegal in Liberia to possess dual citizenship. 

But luckily, there was a series of lawsuits in which the government asked the courts to allow dual citizenship.

So, now there’s an option for citizens of other countries whose parents formerly possessed Liberian citizenship to reclaim the nationality if they want to.

Great move for investment, of course. Liberia has many, many untapped natural resources. So if you’re interested in any form of exploration or investment, you should consider becoming a dual citizen of Liberia.


The last country on our list offering citizenship is Ethiopia. Of course, this is a major African country with various industries to invest in. The naturalization process is pretty simple, and it’s an excellent nationality to possess if you plan to stay in Africa long-term.

The current unrest in Ethiopia has, however, made it undesirable as a business or residential area. It is a destination to watch.

Apart from these citizenship programs, many countries in Africa, including Cameroon and Sierra Leone, for example, are starting to open citizenship programs as well. There isn’t any news about definite citizenship by investment programs yet. But if you consider the fact that Africa’s always been quite particular about its citizens and what they’re going to do with foreign citizens, it’s good to see this new movement where dual citizenship is being considered. 

In the past, a foreign citizen could not think about having such citizenship, but times are clearly changing, and new paths are being created for global citizens interested in the region. This increases the need for local businesses and families to look at the option available to them and tap into them.

Tsitsi Mutendi is a co-founder of African Family Firms, an organization that aims to facilitate the continuity of African family businesses across generations. She is also the lead consultant at Nhaka Legacy Planning and the host of the Enterprising Families Podcast.

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