ABDI LATIF DAHIR
When it comes to advancing the dream of a more open and prosperous Africa, 2018 has been a good one. Leaders across the continent signed the Continental Free Trade Agreement, which aims to connect a marketplace with 1,2 billion people and a GDP of $2,5 trillion.
Another milestone was the launch of the Single Air Transport Market initiative, which outlines a better and faster connected continent through air travel. Many countries from Kenya to Ethiopia, Senegal, and Namibia also relaxed their visa rules for Africans to promote open borders, trade, security and Africa-wide integration.
Yet the free movement of people, and all the benefits that come with it, still remain beyond the reach of many Africans. The 2018 Africa Visa Openness Index shows that Africans still require visas to travel to over half of other African countries.
Compiled by the African Union and the African Development Bank, the report shows citizens of 35 countries including Sierra Leone, Egypt, Morocco, and Angola need visas to travel to at least 26 countries.
Only the citizens of Seychelles and Benin need no visas at all to travel to all the nations on the continent. Many African leaders and commentators had become frustrated with a situation where it is often easier for North American or European passport holders to travel around Africa than Africans themselves.
Even citizens of the same regional economic and political blocs still find it hard to travel. Only one regional union, ECOWAS, fully allows its passport holders to move around easily. The index noted that the lack of deep integration hinders the ability of regional alliances to drive sustainable growth, boost investment opportunities, and allow young people the ability to expand their horizons beyond their home nations. The report showed that when nations opened their borders, they were often rewarded. Eighteen of the top 20 most visa-open nations improved their overall performance in the World Bank Group’s Doing Business Index. All the top 20 most visa-open nations including Ghana and Senegal, also had an upward trajectory on travel and tourism figures, visitor exports and investments. The removal of travel restrictions in Rwanda increased visitors by 100% with many entities organising conferences there. Yet even when African nations liberalise their visa regimes, challenges continue to persist. These include access to visa information in different languages via the internet, and what the time lag is between announcement and the implementation of policies. (Quartz)