The New Times (Kigali)

10 May 2014

Africa: Call for Visa-Free Africa Dominates World Economic Forum on Africa

Photo: World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell
Africa Rising Discussion at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Abuja, Nigeria 2014.

Calls for visa free movements around Africa for African passport holders dominated the just concluded World Economic Forum on Africa in Abuja, Nigeria that ended yesterday.

African leaders led by President Paul Kagame, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, African Development Bank president Dr Donald Kaberuka and Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote championed the cause of free movement of people and goods which would facilitate economic integration and boost the continent's economies.

While calling on countries to look into the possibility of having a visa-free Africa to facilitate free movement of people and goods, President Kagame said a visa-free Africa would help bridge the skills gap.

In the case of Rwanda, the President said the country choose to put up infrastructure that would address the challenges that come with opening up Rwanda's borders to the rest of the continent, noting that the process had been done in consultation with the citizens.

Beginning January 2013, Rwanda opened its borders to African passport holders, thus allowing visitors to get visas on points of entry and removing formalities in visa acquisition from Rwanda's embassies on the continent. It became the first African country to open its borders to African nationals and was followed by Kenya that began implementing the policy this year.

Officials from the Directorate of Immigration and Emigration say the move has since increased the number of tourists, especially from countries where Rwanda doesn't have a consulate.

Kenyatta urged African nations to work towards achieving free movement of people across the continent.

"We need to look at our neighbours not as competitors but as partners in development," Uhuru was quoted as saying.

East African partner states comprising Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda have been rolling out various regional integration initiatives, including the introduction of identity cards as valid travel documents which has eased the movement of people across the three countries' borders.

The decision, effected on January 1, has enhanced social cohesion among the citizens of the three countries and provided an opportunity to explore opportunities in the wider EAC market, share best practices in business transactions and foster socio-economic transformation.

The integration has been termed as a model for other regions with the Malian Prime Minister Moussa Mara, saying other African countries should emulate the action to promote intra-Africa trade.

AfDB chief Donald Kaberuka, called for the fast-tracking of the continent' s integration, outlining it's numerous benefits and opportunities that include boosting economies and expanding regional trade.

"The African Development Bank is committed to African integration through helping ease visa constraints and removing other unnecessary barriers that derail the integration agenda. True integration will take place only if people are able to move freely across the continent and leaders need to take action to make this happen," a statement from his office read in part.

Billionaire and business magnate Aliko Dangote said a visa-free Africa would be a big boost to African investors.

Other topics that were discussed included unlocking job creation growth, private sector, public works, investing in health and accelerating Africa's transformation.

The 'unlocking job creation growth' panel discussion featured President Kagame, who shared on how to create and secure jobs for the unemployed population by implementing an inclusive growth model based on the principles of equity and equality for all.

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