By James Karuhanga
East African will begin using new EAC electronic passports from January next year after Heads of State from the member countries launched the international travel document at a Summit held in Arusha, Tanzania, yesterday.
Each member nation will have up to December 2018, to phase out their national passports.
This latest development is further demonstration of progress for the ongoing integration agenda.
The EAC is made up of six member countries. Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and South Sudan which officially joined the bloc yesterday.
" The Heads of State further directed partner states to undertake awareness creation programmes and other continuous outreach programmes on the new international ea e- passport," reads part of the Communiqué that was issued after the Summit.
The bloc's new electronic is said to be highly secure and difficult to duplicate when compared to the existing passports.
Electronic passports provide travellers with benefits such as use of automated border clearance or "E-gates", automated issuance of boarding passes, and faster travel arrangements with airlines.
Commenting on the development, John Mirenge, the chief executive officer of RwandAir, said: "That is a very welcome development since it will further ease intra EAC travels. From our perspectives, that is great for sub regional air travel business."
Apart from facilitating fast clearance of travellers at immigration checks, an e-passport's database is enhanced with Automated Fingerprint Verification System (AFIS) that guard against multiple passport issuances to the same person and enhances imposter detection.
An e-Passport is also known as a biometric passport. Biometrics are the unique and measurable physical characteristics of an individual that include face recognition, fingerprints, and iris scans.
An electronic passport looks like the traditional passport, but it contains an electronic chip that is encoded with the same information found on page 2 of the passport - the surname, given name, date of birth as well as sex.
Presidents Paul Kagame, John Magufuli, Yoweri Museveni, and Uhuru Kenyatta of Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, respectively, attended the Summit while Burundi was represented by Joseph Butore, second Vice-President. South Sudan which has become the EAC's sixth member, was represented by Vice President, James Wani Igga.