Africa dragging feet on visa-free travel regimes

Monday December 3 2018

The Africa visa dilemma. FILE | NATION MEDIA

The Africa visa dilemma. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By IVAN R. MUGISHA
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Millions of travellers within Africa continue to face challenges due the continent's inability to implement conducive and common visa regimes, a conference heard.

The African Economic Conference, hosted by UNDP in Kigali, noted that despite leaders’ commitments to ease movement, little had been achieved in building road or air routes linking cities, while many Africans were still denied entry to a country because of visas.

The problem, the experts said, was curtailing the free movement of people protocol, viewed as a key pillar to regional integration and the African Continental Free Trade Area.

"The commitments to ease movement that have been made must be realised and jobs have to be created at an unprecedented level," Paul Coullier, a professor of Economics and Public Policy at the University of Oxford, said.

"The barriers imposed in Africa serve in the interest of more developed countries. The task over the next decade is to build more connectivity among cities and remove barriers that infringe growth on the continent."

The African Development Bank (AfDB) will on Tuesday discuss its third edition of the Visa Openness Index, which indicates the countries that were making improvements on free movement across Africa.

Policy reforms

The Africa Visa Openness Index Report 2018, launched in Addis Ababa last week, ranked Rwanda third most visa open country on the continent.

“The Index has helped raise awareness and drive visa policy reforms across the continent to ease movement of people, unlocking opportunities for intra-African tourism, trade and investment. In so doing, the Bank is directly contributing to the objectives of the AU initiative for a Single African passport,” Mr Gabriel Negatu, the AfDB Director General for East Africa Regional Development said.

Rwanda's Economic Planning minister Claudine Uwera said that Kigali had shown political will to push for a visa-free Africa for the continent's citizens.

“Rwanda announced early this year a visa on arrival platform for travellers from all African countries. Development and prosperity will simply not be possible if we do not integrate,” she said.

“Governance will determine the development path for our countries. Equally important is the role of political will and commitment from African leaders. Important pages of our continent’s development history are being written. Let’s take this opportunity to move the continent ahead.”

Their score

The 2018 Visa Openness Index shows that Africans require visas to travel to over half the countries on the continent.

It shows that the top 20 visa-open countries continue to improve their liberal regimes, while 43 countries improved or maintained their score.

Benin made the highest jump by opening up its borders to African travellers, which enabled it to move from 27th in 2017 to 1st place in 2018.

The West African state, alongside Seychelles – which is ranked second ahead of Rwanda - were the only two on the continent that did not charge Africans visa fees.

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