Kenya has rolled out the East African Community (EAC) electronic passport, 17 years after discussions to develop the document began.
The new generation e-passport, which conforms to the international civil standards, replaces the existing national document, set to be phased out by September 2019.
“The Immigration Department will no longer process and issue the current ordinary, diplomatic and East African passports,” said Director of Immigration Gordon Kihalangwa.
The e-passport is embedded with a machine readable computer chip which contains the holder’s biometric information on a tamper-proof page, and has been touted as a major step in curbing fraud and easing clearance at international airports where e-readers are installed.
“The database is enhanced with automated fingerprint verification system that guards against multiple passport issuance to the same person. This minimises theft of data and passport forgery,” said acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i.
The 35th EAC Council of Ministers meeting in April directed member states to start issuing the regional e-passport by January 2018.
Initially, the rollout had been scheduled for January 1, this year according to a directive of the 17th Ordinary Summit of the EAC Heads of States, but the plans crumbled due to different levels of preparedness by member states.
Kenya was to begin the process in April but the launch was pushed to September to allow other countries to prepare for a simultaneous rollout as spelt out in a directive of the Heads of State Summit in March last year. The launch effectively means Kenya has decided to go it alone.
During the Council of Ministers Summit, Burundi, Kenya and Rwanda indicated that they were ready to start rolling out the e-passport but Tanzania and Uganda asked for more time to finalise preparations.
Tanzania said it was upgrading its systems and was sourcing for a contractor to install the additional infrastructure, while Uganda said it was planning a public-private mode of financing for the production of the booklets.
The installation of new technology to print the e-passport and the phasing out of the old generation passports will cost the Kenyan government about $5 million.
The technology installed by the Pakistani government will print a maximum of 2,000 passports per day, up from the current 800.
The launch fulfills one of EAC’s mandate which is to integrate members of the region in line with the requirements of the Common Market Protocol which includes the free movement of goods, persons and labour to accelerate economic growth and development.