Last year, NYU Abu Dhabi senior Victor Okoth spent the summer zigzagging across more than 6,000 miles of eastern and southern Africa with his brother to raise awareness for a Pan-African passport. “A Pan-African passport would make it easier for Africans to travel in Africa while simultaneously promoting intra-African trade and investment, better access to education and technology, and a greater appreciation for the diversity of the continent,” Victor says.
Currently, citizens from more than half of the African Union’s (AU) 55 member-states must obtain visas to travel to other African countries. A Pan-African passport would eliminate these visas. The passport was accepted by the AU in July 2016, but its continent-wide rollout has been delayed until 2020 because of logistical challenges. Victor, frustrated by the snail’s pace of an important step toward Pan-African unity, decided to act.
He started a GoFundMe page to finance a motorcycle trip and partnered with The AfroChampions Initiative—a set of partnerships and programs established in Ghana that supports the emergence, growth, and success of private-sector African companies—to gather a million signatures in favor of the passport. “Many African citizens don’t even know the AU has committed to the passport,” he says. “I felt a motorbike trip was a brilliant way to raise awareness and highlight the problems Africans have traveling in Africa.”
Victor, a native of Uganda and a Civil Engineering major, scheduled meetings with local media outlets along the route and made it a point to network with local businesses and influencers. People started to recognize him and his brother as they buzzed through towns, strengthening his belief that grassroots exposure is the key to building support. Even border officers knew who they were.
Unfortunately, they had to cut their 12,500-mile ride short due to dwindling funds and a few significant delays at border crossings. In fact, Namibia and Angola flatly refused to grant them visas. “This was by far the biggest challenge we faced,” Victor says. “Sure, money was running out, but not getting visas ensured we’d only be able to do half the journey.”
Though disappointed they didn’t complete the entire trip, Victor remains positive about what they did accomplish. Since crossing borders was the goal of the journey, the problems they encountered (including a request for a bribe at the Malawi border) only magnified how impactful a common passport will be in connecting people and opportunities across Earth’s second-largest continent. “The trip reinforced my desire to use my engineering skills for the benefit of society. I saw the state of our roads and railways and realized how important this infrastructure is in bringing together Africa and Africans.”