The Essence of Mobility

 

The global tourism industry generates approximately US$1.3 trillion annually, with Africa contributing only 4 percent due to a number of factors ranging from poor communication links, sub-standard transportation facilities, to few internationally rated amenities like hotels, airports, etcetera. This all goes to show how, despite Africa’s abundant and unique attractions, these weak links have contributed to the continent’s failure to generate more revenue from industries like tourism.

Mobility and ease of access is necessary for any nation or region, as it facilitates trade and the sharing of information and labour. Two factors we will analyse here that are currently pressing in Southern Africa are: visa regulations and too few internationally rated amenities.

The Visa

According to Professor Mthuli Ncube, Chief Economist and Vice-President of the African Development Bank, “Africa is one of the regions in the world with the highest visa requirements. Visa restrictions imply missed economic opportunities for intra-regional trade and for the local service economy such as tourism, cross-country medical services or education.”

The strict visa regimes among African countries that make it difficult for tourists and goods to move freely around the continent have prompted discussion on expediting policies for UNIVISA – a common visa for Southern Africa that will allow citizens of member states to move freely within each other’s countries.

At the United Nations World Trade Organisation General Assembly, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe expressed a similar sentiment when he said: “the current situation where Africa only has a 4 percent share of global tourism revenue in spite of its massive cultural and natural tourism resources is a matter of great concern to us”.

A unilateral visa for Southern Africa would greatly promote travel, which would in turn facilitate the establishment of new businesses, the expansion of national labour forces and markets. In the words of President Mugabe, “there is no way Africa can increase its portion of the global tourism cake without first promoting intra-African travel. It is very critical for Africa to evolve strategies that effectively lure tourists to the continent”.

The idea of a regional visa is not new to Africa; Farirai Machivenyika notes “in West Africa we see how ECOWAS has gone the furthest in improving mobility thanks to its protocol on the Free Movements of Persons and the Right of Residence and Establishment. The protocol provides for freedom of movement a common passport and the right of residence in any country within the bloc”. According to the Southern Africa Migration Project, “ECOWAS passports have gradually replaced national ones, and border procedures have been progressively upgraded”.

Southern Africa is driving the UNIVISA issue through the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa, and it is anticipated that the introduction of UNIVISA in the region will stimulate tourism and employment creation and thus boost economic growth and development.

According to Machivenyika, “the region’s UNIVISA project is in line with the spirit of the SADC Tourism Development Protocol and the protocol on the Facilitation of the Movements of Persons.

SADC members resisted the 1995 protocol on Free Movement of Persons, and it was eventually replaced by the 2005 Protocol on the Facilitation of Movement of Persons, however, it is yet to come into force because many countries are still to ratify it. According to the SADC treaty, for a protocol to come into force, it must be ratified by at least two-thirds of the bloc’s membership”.

The SADC website reports that: “Progress on the signing of the Protocol on Facilitation of Movement of Persons (2005) in Southern Africa is painfully slow. By April 2010, five years after its adoption, only Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland had ratified the protocol. The number falls short of the nine that is required for the protocol to enter into force.”

Airports

In order to engage in relationships with global players, one has to subscribe to global standards. In the words of President Mugabe: “Indeed, connectivity of African cities, regions and attractions augurs well for growing Africa’s share of [tourism]…”

Local nations should thus aim at benefitting from an industry as prosperous as tourism. One Southern African nation that has used its tourism industry is Namibia, which was named the fifth best tourist destination in the world by Lonely Planet in 2010. Today its tourism industry contributes an estimated US$7.2 billion annually.

It was, therefore, a major concern when recently Namibia’s only international airport (Hosea Kutako) was downgraded due to lack of fire-fighting equipment essential for emergencies. This saw the banning of large aircraft.

The Director of Civil Aviation, Angeline Simana, confirmed on July 24 that the airport had indeed been downgraded in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s requirements due to the airport’s lack of fire-fighting equipment and personnel to accommodate A330 Airbus.

“The airport needs to be upgraded to such a state as to be classified as level eight, which allows for the landing of bigger aircraft and which also means that should something go wrong, the airport can handle it,” she said.

This dilemma was a large blow to the airport, as flights – including Air Namibia ‑  had to be postponed or diverted to Gaborone, Botswana, where the passengers were transferred to smaller planes that Hosea Kutako could handle. The airport has since regained its original status after the Namibia Airports Company addressed the fire-fighting equipment shortcomings.

In Retrospect

Many nations enforce strict border control rules and regulations, which hinder the free-flow of undesired goods, and also hinder the flow of much-needed labour, commerce and much-needed goods.

It is appalling that access granted to Africans in Africa is more limited than that granted to Europeans whose passports are admissible in many African countries. The Angolan passport is one of the most limited passports in Southern Africa, as proven by the need for a visa to visit countries within the region, such as, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, etcetera.

This undoubtedly hampers trade and exchange of labour and goods. These strict laws, discourage foreign investors from doing business in our countries and thus we lose out on commerce essential to develop our economies.

According to President Mugabe, it is essential for nations to mould strategies that actively lure tourists to visit.

August 2014
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