President William Ruto has announced plans to remove visa requirements for African nationals travelling to Kenya for business as a first major step to remove barriers to intra-Africa trade.
Dr Ruto on Monday apologised to public and private sector leaders attending a forum on African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in Nairobi for the visa requirements.
“Trade Minister Trade Moses Kuria has informed me that somehow some of our officials made you pay visas to come home and asked me to apologise, which I do. When one comes home, they don’t pay,” he told the forum, narrating the human evolution story in Turkana, Kenya.
“I want to promise you that this might be the last time you are looking for a visa to come to Kenya because of two reasons. Number one, because this is home and number two, we support wholeheartedly the AfCFTA. We must remove any impediments to the movement of people around our continent,” Ruto added.
The announcement was a continuation of Kenya’s policy for the integration of Africa, which began gathering steam during the reign of immediate former president Uhuru Kenyatta.
Ruto’s predecessor in November 2017 allowed any African visiting Kenya to be eligible to receive a visa on arrival.
Kenya’s move, at the time, came in the same month Rwanda issued a similar directive in the spirit of Pan-Africanism without the requirement for reciprocity from other countries.
“For my fellow Africans, the free movement of people on our continent has always been a cornerstone of Pan-African brotherhood and fraternity. The freer we are to travel and live with one another, the more integrated and appreciative of our diversity we will become,” said Kenyatta on November 27, 2017.
Nairobi has for years been championing the removal of trade barriers amongst African countries to ease the movement of goods, services and labour through the integration of regional trading blocs.
Kenya was among the countries selected to participate in the pilot phase of the AfCFTA Initiative on Guided Trade last year as part of the efforts to encourage the movement of goods under preferential trading launched on January 1, 2021.
The other countries were Ghana, Cameroon, Egypt, Mauritius, Rwanda, Tanzania and Tunisia.
Africa’s under-developed transport networks have been blamed for raising cost of goods and services as much as 40 percent, rendering intra-African trade uncompetitive compared with trade with developed continents such as Europe.
For example, the first consignment of Kenya’s value-added tea to Ghana which left the country last October reached Port of Tema in February this year, underlining the infrastructural hurdles facing intra-African trade.
“This is why we must take such barriers as weak transport and logistics capacity, customs related delays, rules of origin, import bans and export restrictions, quotas and levies, technical barriers and import permits and licenses very seriously because they ultimately reverse all the depths we try to make towards a free trade area,” Ruto said.
“They may look small, incremental but their sum total amounts to a reversal of what we are trying to achieve,” he added.
Africa accounted for 18.49 percent, or Ksh622.56 billion ($5.5 billion), of Kenya’s Ksh3.37 trillion ($24.36 billion) total trade value in 2022, largely unchanged from 18.39 percent in the prior year, according to provisional data collated by the Central Bank of Kenya.