No matter how you look at it, Africa seems to be the next destination for people from all over the world to do business. Prior to now, a lot of powers have travelled to Africa to enslave its people, conduct one-sided trade with them, and otherwise compound Africa’s woes. But times are changing, and a new era is fast approaching. The good news is that Africa’s GDP tripled from 2002 to 2014, rising from a mere $600 billion to $2.2 trillion in a spate of twelve years – a feat not even the Chinese and Indians could achieve in the same amount of time.
This economic feat has been attributed to a lot of factors including improvement in good governance, better fiscal discipline in public administration and financial management, reduction in conflicts, and so on. But a major vision that could galvanize these signs of progress is the open visa policy included in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 plan. The idea is that by making it easier to travel, visit, and experience the continent, Africa would benefit immensely and realize its potential.
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Over the years, one of the greatest challenges to trade in Africa has been the protracted visa process, which makes it difficult even for Africans to trade among their respective nations. It is sometimes easier for a Nigerian to travel to Europe than to travel to South Africa to trade and vice versa. The different regional organisations in the continent have been working assiduously to end this malaise. For instance, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) allows visa-free movement for any West African citizen for up to 90 days. Similarly, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has a single visa in place while the East African Community (EAC) provides a single tourist visa for visitors to Kenya, Rwanda, and other member nations.
But these regional policies are still not good enough. In the article, “Visa Free by 2018? Africa’s Open Visa Policy,” Michelle DeFreese quotes the Africa Visa Openness Index Report launched by the African Development Bank (AfDB), which says that “citizens of African countries require visas to travel to 55 percent of countries within the continent.” This remains a fact till date. I travelled aboard Ethiopian Airlines to Kenya just last week, and I had to apply for a visa at the airport before I was granted entry. But the process was so simple compared with what happens in some other African countries where they still have very harsh visa processing methods.
There is a wide range of benefits if Africa could implement this visa-free policy. Apart from an increase in tourism and investment, there would be removal of trade barriers, which has hampered integration on the continent, as well as opening up the continent to business, leading to job creation. Countries such as Rwanda, Mauritius, and Seychelles that have already opened up to business are already enjoying the benefits of tourism, investment, and financial services. As a result of their individual open visa policies, Mauritius and Rwanda have recorded an increase in business, trade, and leisure travel, all of which have boosted their economies.
Antagonists to open and friendly visa policies have said that allowing people from different countries in Africa to enter freely into any African country is not only security unfriendly but also dangerous for battling with the issue of stateless individuals. They argue that an open visa policy could lead to the movement of illegal goods, cross-border terrorism, and trafficking of all forms. While some of this is true, we have seen that the odds of all these happening are slim and not a real threat to the economy. All over Africa where open visa policies have been introduced, the insecurity in those countries is not more than in countries where they are not operating with visa openness. In fact, some of the open-visa countries are more peaceful. Opening a country’s borders and operating an open visa policy doesn’t mean that security levels should be relaxed. It only means that smart security is provided and people are monitored to prevent them from carrying out illegal activities.
It has been projected that arrivals to Africa’s destinations will grow 4.4 percent by 2034, rising from 119 passengers in 2014 to 280 million people flying to, from and within the continent. Opening up Africa, therefore, will not only attract tremendous traffic to Africa; it will also make Africa a hub, a services gateway, and the place to be in the 21st century.