African Skies Slowly Opening Up for Citizens

opinion

If you're thinking of travelling within Africa this holiday season consider Seychelles, Benin, Senegal, Rwanda, Ghana, Uganda, Guinea Bissau, Cabo Verde, Togo and Mauritania as they currently top in visa openness.

Travelling to Democratic Republic of Congo, Algeria, Burundi, Morocco, Egypt, South Sudan, Eritrea, Sudan, Libya, Equatorial Guinea and Western Sahara will be the most challenging as they rank lowest.

Within the region, Rwanda leads followed by Uganda and Kenya.

The 2019 Africa Visa Openness Index also rates Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Tanzania among the top 20 countries on the continent where citizens of other African countries find it easier to process visas for travel or receive the entry permit on arrival.

Rwanda ranks number four out of the 54 African countries, while Uganda comes in number six, while Kenya is number 13.

The data on visa openness was collected in June and July by the African Union with the support of the African Development Bank. It places Seychelles at the top of the 54 African countries surveyed, followed by Benin and Senegal.

This year's survey sought to gauge the impact of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which came into force on May 30.

The report says that countries and regions across Africa have realised the value of supporting citizens to travel more freely within the continent and are breaking down borders.

"Regional integration is crucial for Africa's accelerated development and we must connect landlocked countries to ports. Investors must be able to invest beyond the borders of their countries, and Africa must trade more with itself," said Akinwumi Adesina president of African Development Bank Group.

Growing momentum

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson the AU Commission, said it is encouraging that the majority of AU member states are easing procedures for the entry of African nationals into their territories, and urged those that have not yet done so to join the growing momentum.

The Africa Visa Openness Index measures how open African countries are by looking at what they ask of citizens from other African countries.

The index aims to show which countries are facilitating travel for citizens of other countries and how by assessing whether they allow people to travel to their country without a visa and if travellers can get a visa on arrival.

The Index is tracking changes in country scores over time to show which countries are making improvements that support freer movement of people across Africa. It also shows how countries are facilitating visa access by reducing processing times and costs.

"The question is no longer whether an Africa with seamless borders is within reach, but how soon this will be," said Kwesi Quartey, the deputy chairperson of the AU Commission.

"The growing momentum to sign the Single African Air Transport Market and the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons is encouraging, and I urge all countries to take action to do so," added Mr Quartey.

Two African countries, Seychelles and Benin, offer visa-free access to all Africans, while 10 African countries offer liberal access--visa-free or visa on arrival--to all Africans.

Three African countries, Comoros, Madagascar and Somalia, offer visa on arrival to all Africans.

According the methodology, the higher a country's score in the Index, the more visa-open it is and the higher it ranks.

Scores range from 0--1 (highest) for no visa required, followed by visa on arrival and the time each country takes in processing the visa for Africans in countries where visa is required.

The 2019 Africa Visa Openness Index--now in its fourth edition--is a joint initiative between the African Development Bank and the African Union Commission. This 2019 edition highlights the strong progress being made to open up borders at country and regional levels.

This year a record 47 countries out of the total 55 improved or maintained their visa openness scores, which on average are rising every year.

"There is no more debate. Countries and regions across Africa have realised the value of supporting Africans to travel more freely on the continent and are breaking down borders," said Khaled Sherif, the AfDB vice-president.

Dr Sherif added that today, African travellers no longer need a visa to travel to a quarter of other African countries, whereas visa-free travel was only possible to a fifth of the continent in 2016.

eVisa platforms

While the top 10 and top 20 continue to champion open visa policies, more countries in all regions are following this model, including most recently Africa's upper-middle-income countries.

To streamline the travellers' experience, 21 countries Africa-wide now provide eVisa platforms boosting transparency and accessibility.

South Africa recently offered eVisa facilities to Kenyan citizens as the African economic giant try to make amends to the recent xenophobia attacks against other African nationals.

To integrate Africa, we should bring down all the walls! The free movement of people, and especially labour mobility, are crucial for promoting investments," said Mr Adesina.

Mr Quartey said that as Africa's integration milestones usher in an era of closer co-operation and connectivity for all African citizens, it is time to collectively take down the barriers that remain and reap the benefits.

According to the average visa openness in 2019, African citizens have liberal access to 51 per cent of other African countries, while they need visa to travel to 49 per cent African countries.

African do not need visa to travel to 25 per cent of other African countries, which is still low according to analyst, but a marked improvement from 22 per cent in 2017 and 20 per cent in 2016.

Africans can get visas on arrival in 26 per cent of other African countries, up from 24 per cent in 2018.

The average visa openness score for all countries continued to rise in 2019, even though the number of countries offering liberal access to all Africans stayed the same or decreased slightly.

The number of countries offering eVisas increased by 31 per cent in 2019, with 21 countries now hosting an online platform.

Two-thirds of countries that offer eVisas also made the most progress on visa openness since 2016, with the majority having recently introduced the system.

According to regions, 9 countries in the top 20 most visa-open countries are in East Africa--Comoros, Djibouti Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania Uganda, taking 45 per cent of the five African regions.

West Africa follows with 35, where those in the top 20 include; Benin Cabo Verde Gambia Ghana Guinea-Bissau Senegal Togo.

Southern Africa is third with 15 per cent and North Africa takes 5 per cent with only Mauritania being in the top 20. None of the top 20 most visa-open countries are from Central Africa.

The top 20 countries continued to improve their average visa openness scores in 2019, as more countries adopted liberal access policies for other Africans.

At the same time, 85 per cent of the top 20 countries are also the most open to global visitors. Over half of the top 20 countries hold the most favourable passports for African travel, suggesting that more liberal policies can promote their own citizens' ease to travel.

Regional integration

Close to half or over half of the top 20 countries in the Index are champions of the continent's regional integration milestones, including the African Continental Free Trade Area, the Single African Air Transport Market and the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons in Africa.

Ethiopia is the most improved country in the eastern African region, joining the top 20 in 2019, rising a record 32 places since the 2018 edition of the Africa Visa Openness Index.

The country, which is home to one of the continent's political hubs, aims to further boost the regional integration agenda through the introduction of a vision-arrival policy for all AU member states.

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