Rapper ‘Mos Def’ Arrested In South Africa For Using ‘World Passport’ At Immigration


Have you ever entertained the (extravagant) thought that everyone in the world could just hold the same passport and is allowed to roam freely? Today’s story about World Passports elaborates on this idea.

World Passport

A U.S. born musician who goes by ‘Mos Def’ entered South Africa on his U.S. passport (which he since renounced) and was arrested / detained after he attempted to leave the country on a World Passport.

The World Passport is a document issued by the non-profit organization ‘World Service Authority’ in Washington D.C. (access their website here) to everyone who applies for a nominal fee plus shipping costs.

The website describes:

The mandate for the WORLD PASSPORT is Article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

The World Passport is a 30 page Machine Readable Travel Document (MRTD*) with alphanumeric code line, scanned-in passport photo and “ghost” security paper with embedded logo, the data page laminated, in 7 languages.

World Passport

There are documented cases where this Passport was at least once accepted in 180 countries including the United States. Though these documentations only show an entry stamp and not the story behind it such as having a valid visa in a second passport or another page etc.

I read about the story on FP – Foreign Policy (see here) which I read on a regular basis.

When American rapper Mos Def tried to board a flight from South Africa to Ethiopia last weekend, officials at the airport in Cape Town scoffed at the identification document he provided. Then they confiscated it and refused to let him board his flight.

That’s because Mos Def, who was born Dante Smith but now goes by the name Yasiin Bey, is a U.S. citizen who entered South Africa on an American passport, but was trying to leave on a World Passport — a little-known document issued by the World Service Authority in Washington, D.C.

Usually a foreigner has to leave a country under the same passport he entered with or – provided one obtained a new passport (not even talking about a new citizenship) since – contact the immigration department to transfer the entry stamp into the new document before being able to leave on that. That such an action rings all alarm bells isn’t too surprising and I’m not even talking about the legitimacy of this World Passport document.

The rapper obtained the passport last month but never used it before last weekend.

He added that it remains unclear what South Africa alleges Bey did wrong, but maintained that despite news reports indicating otherwise, Bey was in South Africa legally and did not intend to deceive anyone when he tried to travel to Addis Ababa with his new passport. Other reports indicate he was arrested at the airport in South Africa, has renounced his American citizenship, and was trying to leave with his family. …

“He wanted to start using the World Passport because it’s more representative of his personal ideals and philosophies,” the representative told FP.

David Gallup, president and general counsel for the World Service Authority, told FP in a phone call Friday that Americans who obtain the passports often do so just because they believe in the private organization’s mission to spread peace by recognizing all humans belong to one family, and that any borders dividing people are man-made. It is not mandatory to renounce your citizenship in order to obtain a World Passport.

If making music is your livelihood and you depend on international travel it’s probably not the best move to renounce your citizenship to take on a worthless piece of paper. He wouldn’t be the first rapper though who lost his mind due to excessive consumption of certain substances.

Gallup also said upwards of 180 countries and territories have recognized the passport on various occasions, even if most do not publicly advertise that they do. Among those that have previously recognized the documents, he said, is South Africa, which issued another World Passport holder a visa as recently as August. …

Still, if there’s anyone who isn’t surprised this happened, it might be Bey himself.  In his 1999 track, “Mr. Nigga,” Bey recounts another time he was mistreated at the airport, when a flight attendant found him in first class and figured he had the wrong seat.

“Like, late night I’m on a first class flight/The only brother in sight, the flight attendant catch fright/I sit down in my seat, 2C/She approach officially, talking about, ‘Excuse me’/Her lips curl up into a tight space/Cause she don’t believe that I’m in the right place/Showed her my boarding pass, and then she sort of gasped/Put an extra lime in my water glass.”



I went to South Africa last week and found immigration there to be pretty strict compared to other places in the world. In this day and age one should be mindful what kind of identification documents are carried on a trip and I’d suggest a legitimate passport to be one of the most essential items.

This story, however bizarre it might seem, shines an interesting light on what kind of avenues exist for people who are stateless for the one or other reason. The examples of the world passport being accepted in western countries doesn’t mean a thing IMHO since as mentioned above there are a multitude of reasons why these people were admitted. I bet 100$ on it that you won’t even be allowed to board a flight to the U.S. if you present this document for check in at the airline desk.