In a first for the southern African region, citizens of Botswana could soon be able to travel to Namibia using just their national identity cards instead of passports, and vice versa, if ongoing discussions between the two countries are finalised.According to Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi, plans are underway for Batswana and Namibians visiting either of the two countries to use their national Identity cards instead of passports.
Speaking at the official opening of the 45th Ghanzi Agricultural Show, which was attended by his counterpart Namibian President Hage Geingob at the weekend, Masisi said the two neighbouring countries have agreed on the issue and are now working on formalising the arrangement.
“’It was so easy for us to agree that in the not so distant future we are going to eliminate the need for passports for the citizens of Namibia coming to Botswana and Batswana going to Namibia. All you will need to present, is a valid national identity card then you can traverse across,” Masisi revealed.
Geingob said Botswana and a Namibia “are not just neighbours, but are bound by blood, making us brothers and sisters in the Southern African House in particular and the larger African House in general.”
He said during one of our darkest periods under German colonial oppression, Namibians under the leadership of Chief Maharero fled their country and were warmly received by the citizens of this beautiful land. Many of them reside until today in Botswana.
“After the end of German colonialism and the subsequent illegal occupation of Namibia by apartheid South Africa, Botswana became a place of refuge for Namibian people. Your country was often the first point of entry for many Namibians, including Yours Truly,” said Geingob.
The initiative by the two neighbouring countries which has been negotiated behind the scenes by the leadership is seen as part of efforts to set the tone for attaining regional integration in southern Africa where countries are targeting to attain free movement of persons and goods.
The latest development by Botswana and Namibia comes at a time when regional integration is dominating the political discourse in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.
Allowing the free movement of goods, services, people and capital between national markets has been a key aspiration of SADC countries over the past four decades.
One of the main objectives of the SADC Treaty is the promotion of policies that aim to eliminate obstacles to the free movement of persons in the region.
The region adopted a Protocol on the Facilitation of Movement of Persons in 2006, but the legal instrument is yet to come into force since it has not been ratified by two thirds of the 16 member states.
So far, only Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland have ratified the protocol.
Although the protocol is not yet operational, it makes provision for member states to conclude bilateral agreements for visa exemptions, according to SADC.
Most member states have exempted citizens of fellow SADC countries from requiring visas whenever they want to visit.
However, citizens of most SADC member states still require visas before they can enter Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar.
Moreover, there have been talks on a proposed single SADC passport initiative in the coming future.
This is in line with the African Union’s long-held vision of establishing a single tourism and investment market.
Masisi applauded his counterpart on the Namibian government’s Harambee Prosperity Plan, Windhoek’s action plan towards prosperity for all. He noted that Botswana would learn a lot and benefit from it.
Ghanzi is a town situated in the middle of the Kalahari Desert in the western part of Botswana.