Tanzania has joined Kenya in rolling out the East African Community electronic passport, ahead of the December 2018 deadline, when countries are expected to phase out the national passports.
Kenya began to issue the new e-passport in September last year, becoming the first country in the region to do so.
Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are yet to roll out the e-passport, but have reported various stages of progress.
Rwanda has initiated a tender to procure both the systems and booklets for the regional e-passport, and is now in the final stages of contract-signing. A Cabinet paper on the e-passport modalities, including categories, validity and key features, was approved.
Burundi has already approved and domesticated the EAC designs and specifications of the document and is waiting to roll it out, while Uganda is still at the procurement and financing stage for the production of the e-passport booklets.
The e-passport — also known as the biometric passport — complies with guidelines set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), making it admissible globally.
The EAC Heads of State Summit in March 2016 directed that the issuance of e-passports be done concurrently in all member states, with a one-year phase-out of the national and regional passports.
An e-passport looks like the current national passports, but contains an electronic chip that is encoded with the same information found on page two of the passport — the surname, given name, date of birth and sex. It also have a biometric identifier, digital photograph of the holder and security features to prevent unauthorised use and forgery.
The e-passport will facilitate fast clearance of citizens at immigration offices. An automated fingerprint verification system in the database will guard against multiple passport issuances to the same person and also detect imposters.
The e-passport comes in red, green and sky blue — the colours of the EAC flag — but with text and national emblems in gold to complete its face. The colour of the passport will depend on categories. For instance, EAC diplomats will carry the red passport, officials (service category) will have it in green while ordinary citizens will have the sky blue document.
The ordinary passport will be valid for up to 10 years while the diplomatic and service passports will depend on the specific terms of service of the holder.
The outer front cover will be inscribed with the words “East African Community” in gold at the top, while the issuing partner state will be pasted below.