*Visa Openness and the Quest for a Unified Africa: A Comparative Analysis*
Author: Anthony Onugba
Editor: Namse Udosen and Efua Eshun
Nothing makes travelling to explore different places so unique like the numerous benefits that come with it. These include having fun, creating lasting memories, getting a real-life education, boosting your confidence, enhancing tolerance, broadening your mind, peace of mind, making new friends, and generally improving your health. Such travels expose the mind to different cultures, histories, people, and experiences which could have never been accessed unless through the pages of books or on the screen, and would obviously not be equal to real life experiences. Experience, it is said, is the best teacher. This is why while reading informs, experience educates.
One of the beauties of Africa is the presence of so many natural splendours which include the flora and fauna, the hills, mountains, rocks, people, culture, historical monuments, food, among others. Africa covers 20% of the world’s land mass and this same percentage houses the list above including lots of mineral and human resources. Africa’s population is estimated at about 1.3 billion and counting. There are lots of untapped mineral resources as well and with all these, Africa can indeed be tagged as a tourist attraction not just to foreigners but to Africans themselves.
Africa and Africans have emerged from a turbulent past. The struggle for independence forced some form of unity among leaders in Africa ultimately leading to the creation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which later metamorphosed into the African Union (AU) in a direct semblance to the European Union (EU). However, the same African leaders that were once united, appear divided in policies relating to mobility from one country to the other. There are still problems with interconnectivity and integration among Africans and this greatly hampers free trade, migration, and development.
According to the 2019 Africa Visa Openness Index, which was jointly developed by the African Union
Commission (AUC) and the African Development Bank (ADB), Seychelles and Benin Republic are the only African Countries without a visa policy for other Africa countries. Seychelles extends this to foreigners as well, and operates a zero-visa policy. This is an early arrival of the proposed 2063 goal which includes an integrated Africa with free movement of people. One can only wonder why it should take until 2063 to achieve this when most – if not all – of the leaders that signed this would have left power.
As part of the 2063 goal, one of the milestones is a visa-free regime by 2018. This has passed with little or no success. The BBC, in a 2018 report, reveal that Africans can travel to only 22% of other African countries. South Africa is one of the obvious examples of a country that resists travel by other Africans. According to the same report, citizens from 15 African countries can visit South Africa without a visa while nationals from up to 28 European Countries can visit the country for free. Bilateral agreements are not to blame here as Kenya for instance allows South Africans to enjoy the ‘visa on arrival’ service; while Kenyans must obtain a visa prior to their trip. This, in addition to the visa acquisition difficulty of those outside the Southern African Development Community (SADC), makes it difficult to implement a visa-free regime.
Added to this is the cost of the visa fees. It is not harmonious between countries. For example, a single-entry visa fee for Kenyans visiting Nigeria is $25. While for Nigerians visiting Kenya is $50. The same is replicated in various countries as well. What must be noted is that regional integration still exists. West Africans for example do not need visas to travel within the region, same applies to other regions. In my opinion, inter-regional travels should rather demand the use of a visa, exceptions allowed. The AU launched its own passport in 2016 but since then, only some heads of states, senior diplomats and top AU officials are in possession of this passport.
The other point is on cost versus value. For example, applying for visa to Djibouti is roughly $90. This gives you access to just one African country. However, applying for a Schengen visa which will give you access to 26 European countries is $75. This apparently means that there is more value in paying less.
In addition to the above, there is also the transport cost. For example, flying from Nairobi to Dubai is cheaper than flying from Nairobi to Morocco. Flying from The Gambia to Nigeria is more expensive than flying from Nigeria to London. One excuse for this is the lack of frequent passengers and limited flight routes. But what would attract people to frequent a route if it is expensive and gives less value for money? If travelling from East Africa to Angola is more expensive compared to travelling to some European countries with visa fees included, why would any one want to travel within Africa unless it is for work or even sponsored?
Quartz Africa notes that it is easier for North Americans and Europeans to visit African countries than for Africans to visit other African countries. The reasons for this are elucidated above regarding cost of flights, free visa for most, as well as easy acquisition of visa.
Meanwhile, there are several defences for the tough visa regimes and even visa rejections. According to a report by the United Nations, large and growing economies worry about the impact of migration on their cities and labour markets. As a result, countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, South Africa and Tanzania with their large and expanding economies, provide opportunities for trade, health care, a booming labour market, infrastructure, among others, which comes under pressure. The governments of these countries try to protect their infrastructure by limiting entry.
While this may seem like a valid point, it is important to note that every country needs the services of both skilled and unskilled labour. This is in a bid to accelerate development. In the United States, many of the top companies were founded by immigrants. This is the same in some African countries as there are foreigners who migrate with their capital and set up businesses and as a result employ more people and contribute to the growth of the country through payment of taxes. Consequently the country gets richer and simultaneously experience a reduction in the unemployment rate.
Another reason is attributed to an increase in crime. It is believed that people with sinister motives could migrate to another country and cause harm there. This is in a way illogical. Criminals do not necessarily have to come from outside. Every country has criminals and that is why there is the presence of the police, justice system, among others. Rwanda for example, adopted a flexible visa protocol in 2013 which *included authorization to stay for 90 days and by ‘visa on arrival.’* Since then, Rwanda has hosted more conferences and events and has seen a 100% increase in visitors to the country as well as an increase in investors and investments. However, there was no increase in the crime rate.
In addition, Senegal is offering visa-free access to about 42 African countries in order to boost tourism. Kenya offers visa on arrival for everyone and the country does have a diverse mix with a booming tourism industry. However, there is no recorded rise in crime rate as a result of these visa restrictions. It is undeniable that there have been terrorists’ attacks but many are linked to land border penetration especially with ineffectively managed borders. What this calls for is an improvement in vigilance, security and intelligence gathering.
Africa has lots to offer Africans but it will be possible only if we have the ability to see it. The AU must fulfil its mandates to the Africans. In the same vein, there needs to be sacrifices on the part of the leaders especially to ensure that this happens. It behooves on the inhabitants of the continent to realise that a united and prosperous Africa is possible. This we must realize and work towards it in unity.