By Timo Shihepo
WINDHOEK – The African Union (AU) has said some African countries’ reluctance to relax the visa requirements to other Africans is undermining the continent’s integration drive.
The AU has set its sights on having free movement of goods and people on the continent through a single passport and visa openness, which is necessary to achieve Agenda 2063.
Agenda 2063 is a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years. It builds on, and seeks to accelerate the implementation of past and existing continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development.
The AU said the Agenda 2063 will be affected if the visa openness levels are not improving. According to the latest Africa Visa Openness Index, only East and West Africa are making significant strides in relaxing the visa requirements to other Africans.
Information provided to The Southern Times by the AU indicates that 75 percent of countries in the top 20 most visa-open countries, are either in east or west Africa, while only 20 percent are in southern Africa. Of the top 20 countries, only one country, Mauritania, is from the northern African region, while no country from central Africa haven opened their borders.
The AU wants to see a trend towards a visa free Africa. The continental body also wants its member states to deliver on its decision to call for African countries to issue visas-on-arrival to all Africans as it seeks to achieve seamless borders.
The AU believes that greater visa openness in Africa would help create a people-centered African integration offering free movement of persons, intra-African trade, tourism, study and job opportunities as well as people-to-people exchanges for all Africans.
“Despite the size of our group, I need 38 visas to move around Africa,” says Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote, president and CEO of Dangote Group.
Despite being rated as the most stable and investment friendly region in Africa, Southern Africa appears to be reluctant to the idea of opening its boarders.
“The issue is that we are open to people within our region. I don’t think we have done enough to welcome people who live outside Southern Africa. In southern Africa, we have a good paper on regional integration that will make the movement in the region much easier but it’s not fully implemented,” an analyst from the University of Namibia (UNAM) Dr Omu Kakujaha-Matundu told The Southern Times.
Kakujaha-Matundu said SADC should look at West Africa, who’s regional intergartion drive is way more advanced. He pointed that the region even makes use of a single currency, the CFA franc. “That currency unified the region,” he said adding that the said currency existed even before the European Union establised its currency.
On the continent, Ghana made the most progress during 2016 in opening up its borders to African travellers. The former Gold Coast moved to sixth place on the index, up sixteen places from 2015.
Senegal also moved into the top 20 most visa-open countries, up nine places from 2015 and Tunisia moved 13 places from 2015. Seychelles continues to lead the index and remains the only African country on the continent to offer visa-free access for all Africans.
“Our leaders have to bring down the walls that separate us, from East Africa to Central Africa to north Africa to West Africa. We need a wider open market” says Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Group.
The African Union Commission deputy chairperson Dr. Kwesi Quartey observes that much progress has been achieved despite the numerous challenges.
In July 2016, the African Union launched the African Union Passport that has since been issued to Heads of State and Government, the First Ladies, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, the Chairpersons of the Regional Economic Communities, the Permanent Representatives Committee of the African Union as well as some business persons.
“The African Union is supporting Member States in rolling out the African Union passport to all its citizens, granting them visa-free access to explore the Continent for business, pleasure, leisure and tourism,” said Quartey.