Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan have until August to start issuing the East African Community electronic passport in order to meet the December deadline for phasing out the individual national passports for EAC member states.
The EAC Council of Ministers in its recent meeting raised concerns about the slow pace of the four countries in launching the e-passport.
Kenya rolled out the e-passport in September 2017 while Tanzania launched its own in January this year.
The partner states are at different levels of implementing the document. Rwanda has approved certain features of the document, including categories, validity and key features, while Burundi has approved and domesticated the designs and specifications of the document and is waiting to roll it out.
Uganda is at the procurement and financing stage for the production of the booklets.
The EAC e-passport is expected to comply with guidelines set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, making it admissible globally.
The e-passport will have an electronic chip holding the same information as the old model passport, alongside a biometric identifier, digital photograph of the holder and security features to prevent unauthorised use and forgery.
In March 2016, the EAC Heads of State Summit directed that the rollout of e-passports be done at the same time in all member states, with a one-year phase-out of the national and community passports.
The EAC e-passport will facilitate faster clearance of citizens at immigration and the database is enhanced with automated fingerprint verification system that guards against multiple passport issuances to the same person and enhances imposter detection.
Currently, all the EAC countries — apart from Burundi — use second-generation passports that rely on digital imaging, watermarks and ultraviolet imaging as security features.
Once implemented, it will enable secure identification of EAC citizens, protect against identity theft and eliminate passport data skimming.
The new passport reaffirms the right of EAC citizens to live and work in partner countries. It will come in red, green and sky blue — the colours of the EAC flag — but with text and national emblems in gold.
EAC diplomats will carry a red e-passport, green will be for government officials and ordinary citizens will have theirs in sky blue.