African countries are becoming more open to each other with Benin making the most progress in opening up its borders to African travellers, cites a report that assesses the progress African countries have realized in relaxing their visa regimes.
The third edition of the Visa Openness Index Report 2018 published by the African Development Bank and the Africa Union Commission said that Benin moved from 27th place in the 2017 edition to join Seychelles in the 1st place in the 2018 report, increasing its score by 200 per cent.
Benin is the second country on the continent after Seychelles to offer visa-free access to all African countries and the first Francophone country to do so.
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“Based on the experience of Rwanda, I decided that Benin will no longer require visas for Africans. South-South cooperation can make real sense. My hope is that cooperation between Rwanda and Benin can serve as an example,” the president of Benin, Patrice Talon said in February 2017 after it abolished short-stay visa for nationals of 31 African countries.
The country’s open visa policy for African visitors from January 2017 was commended by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as promoting a people-centred approach to integration in the region.
“It’s a decision that gives weight to the objective of going from an ECOWAS of States to an ECOWAS of the people by 2020,” said Moustapha Cisse Lo, ECOWAS Parliament President.
Benin’s decision to open its borders came on the back of its Revealing Benin Action Programme which made tourism one of its key projects to drive economic development.
Following the move, total travel and tourism contributed 5.7% to Benin’s GDP in 2017, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council Economic Impact 2018 report.
This year, the Francophone country enforced additional measures to improve overall entry access to the country. Authorities announced that from March, non-Africans wishing to visit for less than a week with a valid passport and yellow fever certificate, can apply for a special tourist visa on arrival for a set fee.
Since April, global visitors could obtain an eVisa for Benin as part of the country’s Smart Gouv programme to simplify entry and short stay visa processes, according to the Visa Openness Index Report.
Visa-free travel for Africans in Africa is scheduled to start by the end of 2018 but with just about 40 days to end the year, many feel that this will not materialize as only about 22 per cent of African countries have taken that step to open up their borders to other Africans.
The idea of having an African passport has not caught on with many countries on the continent due to fears of illegal immigration, smuggling, a spread of diseases, terrorism and the loss of local job markets, among others.
Despite a roadmap by the African Union (AU) to ensure a visa-free travel for Africans in Africa by 2020, Seychelles is the only country where visa-free travel is open to all Africans, as well as, to citizens of every nation. Ghana, Rwanda, Namibia, Mauritius, Benin and Kenya have all loosened travel restrictions for other African nationals.
Following an announcement by South Africa last month that it was relaxing its travel rules to revive its economy, Ethiopia followed suit, rolling out a visa-on-arrival regime for all Africans entering the country. This means that there would be no need for Africans to necessarily apply for visas before flying into the country. All African passport holders need to do is to fly in and have their visas stamped on arrival.
At the time of the announcement, Ethiopian authorities said a relaxed visa regime will enhance the country’s openness and enable it to harness the significant stopover transit traffic for Ethiopian Airlines, the national carrier, which is said to be Africa’s biggest and most profitable airline. Before this, Ethiopia had started issuing visas online for tourists and other visitors across the world.
Currently, the latest country to announce the visa-on-arrival policy for Africans is Botswana. Effective November 24, 2018, the Southern African country will be offering tourists visas on arrival to boost its tourism and other businesses, the president, Mokgweetsi Masisi announced this month.
At the moment, citizens of African countries still need a visa to travel to more than half of the continent’s 54 countries. This shows that more progress is needed to realise the free movement of people continent-wide, according to the Visa Openness Index.
The report which analyses the visa requirements set by each member state of the African Union for other member states seeking to enter their borders, aims to show at a glance which countries are facilitating travel for citizens of other African countries and how.
It also looks at whether these countries allow people to travel to their country without a visa; if travellers can get a visa on arrival in the country; or if visitors need to get a visa before travel.
This year’s findings show that the top 20 most visa-open countries continue to improve their average score, reflecting the countries’ more liberal visa policies. Overall, when compared to 2017, Africans do not need a visa to travel to 25% of other African countries (up from 22%); can get visas on arrival in 24% of other African countries (same as last year); and need visas to travel to 51% of other African countries (down from 54%), the report noted.
Apart from Benin, the following countries also made significant progress: