Despite the potential of improving trade and investment through seamless borders, Africa remains a laggard in adopting the open-visa policy concept.
A newly published index by the African Development Bank (AfDB) shows movement remains heavily curtailed with Africans still needing visas to travel to over half of the continent.
Analysts say seamless borders can help to plug skills gaps in the labour market, promote entrepreneurship, diversify the economy, add value to services, or whether it is to attract investment and boost competitiveness.
“Yet Africa largely remains closed, with Africans still needing visas to travel to over half of the continent. These headlines go against the continent’s goal to truly become ‘one Africa.’ And still we know that it is the free movement of people, together with the free movement of goods, services and capital, which is the lifeblood that will sustain Africa’s integration,” Akinwumi Adesina, President African Development Bank Group says.
The AfDB’s Africa Visa Openness Report 2016 index shows that the most visa-open countries are found in East and West Africa —an indication of the huge challenges facing investors eyeing cross-border deals and operations in the continent.
An estimated 75 per cent of countries in the top 20 most visa-open countries are in East or West Africa. By contrast, only one is in North Africa and none are in Central Africa are in the top 20 most visa-open countries.
East Africa has the bulk (45 per cent) of the top most visa open countries including Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda.
West Africa has the second largest cluster (30 per cent) of the top most visa open countries including Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Togo according to the index. The southern Africa bloc is ranked third in terms of visa openness in four countries that include Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique and Zambia.
Overall, African countries are on average more closed off to each other than open, making travel within the continent difficult.
Data shows that Africans need visas to travel to 55 per cent of other countries while Africans can get visas on arrival in 25 per cent of other African countries.
The report also points out that Africans don’t need a visa to travel to 20 per cent of other African countries.
Global comparisons show that North Americans have easier travel access to the continent than Africans themselves. North Americans, for example, require a visa to travel to 45 per cent of African countries, can get visas on arrival in 35 per cent of African countries and don’t need a visa in 20 per cent of African countries.
“Free movement of people is not a reality across Africa. Central Africa and North Africa are the most closed regions. Good results in West Africa are due to the free movement of persons protocol and in East Africa are as a result of the high number of visa on arrival policies,” AfDB said.