Africa’s integration: so near yet so far
By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone- A new report detailing findings of Africa’s visa openness landscape presents a mixed reality and highlights a mixed bag of fortunes for promoting African travel across the continent.
The second report of Africa Visa Openness Index is a collaborative effort between the African Development Bank, the African Union Commission and the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Africa.
It shows that in late 2016, over a third of African countries out of the 55 studied have more liberal visa policies than in 2015 and four countries have moved up into the top 20 most visa open countries.
It further highlighted that progress was been made last year, compared to 2015, against each of the visa openness indicators. It further shows that Africans currently don’t need a visa to travel to more countries than previously.
The fall in the number of visas on arrival is due to some countries having increased the number of “no visas” for African travelers to replace the number of visas given on arrival.
Facilitating visa access also improved in 2016, with fewer countries with low visa openness scores not offering any visas on arrival.
At the same time, more countries offered visas last year.
The findings show that 40 percent of countries in the top 20 described as most visa-open countries are in East Africa; 35 percent are in West Africa; 20 percent are in Southern Africa, and 5 percent are in North Africa.
In the top 20 most visa-open countries, none are in Central Africa.
The index noted that less than a quarter of all African countries provide liberal access at entry for all African citizens. To improve their scores, the report recommended that countries can remove visas or offer more visas on arrival.
Ten out of 55 countries offer liberal access (visa-free or visa on arrival) to all Africans. However, many of the continent’s regional and strategic hubs continue to have restrictive visa policies.
The most visa open countries in the top 20 of the index are Ghana, Cape Verde, Togo, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Gambia, and Burkina Faso. Others include Comoros, Djibouti, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Malawi and Mauritania.
While a number of countries still have a distance to travel to make greater progress on visa openness, countries from across West Africa, North Africa and Southern Africa moved up the index rankings in 2016.
In the top 20 most visa-open countries in Africa in 2016, there are four new countries listed below.
Ghana has made the most progress in 2016 in opening up its borders for other African travellers, moving into sixth place on the index, up sixteen places from 2015. The country offers 96 percent liberal access to all Africans. This is the case either through offering visa-free access to almost a third of all countries (including for the other 14 ECOWAS member states) or visas on arrival to almost two thirds of countries in Africa (from less than 10 percent in 2015).
Senegal has moved into the top 20 most visa open countries in Africa, up 9 places from 2015 by offering visa-free access to 42 African countries alongside other ECOWAS member states. The country offers 78 percent liberal access to all Africans, more than double the figure from 2015. In order to match the ranking of Seychelles – the most visa-open country on the index – Senegal would need to offer visa-free access to 12 more African countries. Tunisia moved up 13 places from 2015.
The country offers 39 percent liberal access to all Africans. In early 2016, visas on arrival for citizens of 21 African countries were lifted. This follows a 2015 visa policy decision, which offered six African countries visa-free access to the country. Tunisia’s visa policy decision to open up to citizens from across the continent supports the country’s efforts to revitalise the high-value tourism sector following security incidents in 2015.
Malawi does not require visas from 14 African countries as well as from SADC and COMESA member states (as long as they do not require visas from citizens of Malawi).
Malawi has moved into the top 20 most visa open countries in Africa, up 9 places from 2015, and offers liberal access to half of all African citizens, up from less than a third in 2015.
The country is supporting regional integration efforts to promote free movement of people through its visa reciprocity policy with citizens of countries in SADC and COMESA.
The report shows that after the launch of the Africa Visa Openness Index, a number of countries in West Africa and Southern Africa signalled their intention to allow greater access for African travellers and facilitate the movement of people across the continent.
Meanwhile, São Tomé et Príncipe is one of 13 African countries that offers eVisas, in the case of both tourists and business people where there is no diplomatic or consulate representation of the country.
The island nation moved higher up the index in 2016, with 13 African countries now no longer needing a visa.
Namibia has moved two places up to 36 compared to number 38 in 2015. The report says Namibia has announced that SADC citizens will not require visas to visit the country for either business or tourism so as to boost free movement of people within SADC.
Benin has announced a decision to remove visas on arrival for all African passport/national identity card holders to stay in the country for up to 90 days. The decision is part of the government’s vision to build a proactive tourism industry. It has moved one place up the index (2016 visa openness index ranked number 34 compared to number 35 in 2015).
South Africa has approved 10-year multiple entry visas to African businesses and academics to boost growth, alongside immigration concessions to support tourism.
Zimbabwe ranks number 21 on the 2016 index compared to number 27 on the 2015 index. Zimbabwe has announced that all SADC citizens can now visit the country visa-free in order to boost the tourism sector and bring sustainable socio-economic benefits.
Commenting on the report, Pierre Guislain, vice president, private sector, infrastructure and industrialisation, African Development Bank, described the study as “… welcome news”.
But he was quick to add, “…we cannot stop here. Visa openness policies are the result of strong leadership and political will, citing recent decision to offer visas on arrival for most African countries. Efforts need to be reinforced and not reversed”.
“At the African Development Bank, we are trying to drive a continental visa policy reform programme for all of Africa. While we encourage reciprocity on visa issuance across countries, visa solutions can also be adopted unilaterally as is the case for Seychelles – once again the top performing country in Africa,” he said.
“If we see Africa as one market, if we believe in integrating Africa and if we want to promote talent mobility all across Africa, greater freedom of movement is a necessity. As some recent global developments have led to more restrictive policies, Africa is moving toward greater openness and a connected vision of prosperity and hope.” Guislain added: “We are proud to report the tremendous interest in the initiative from governments, businesses and Africans across the continent. The African Union has future plans to support member states in rolling out the African Union passport to all citizens, granting them visa-free access to explore the continent for business, pleasure, leisure and tourism.”
He pointed out that challenges to freedom of movement across Africa undoubtedly still existed.
“Policy makers, business leaders, civil society and engaged citizens need to highlight where gaps still exist to enable appropriate reforms to be undertaken,” he said.
For his part, Thomas Kwesi Quartey, deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission said by the end of 2016, Africa had advanced moderately towards greater freedom of movement for its people.
He said the goal of an integrated Africa as envisaged in Agenda 2063 was slowly getting into sharper focus.
Quartey said the collective AU decision for member states to grant a 30-day visa-on-arrival to all African passport holders was being implemented by leading reformers such as Ghana, who this year have joined Rwanda, Mauritius and Seychelles to implement this system. Meanwhile, according to Quartey, other African countries have also announced their intentions to do so.