Cabinet recently announced that it has decided to abolish visa requirements for African holders of diplomatic or official passports, just weeks after the African Development Bank(ADB) launched the first Africa Visa Openness Index.
The index shows that the African continent remains largely closed off for African travellers – a fatal but easily avoided roadblock for business travel on the continent.
Namibia currently sits on the 38th position out of 52 countries on the Africa Visa Openness Index.
In view of Africa Day, President Hage Geingob reiterated the role played by African nations towards the liberation of Namibia. Geingob said African Nations offered refuge to Namibians, as they fled the brutality of the apartheid system. “It is against this background that Cabinet at its meeting on the 24 th of May, in the Spirit of Harambee and Africa Unity decided to, with immediate effect, exempt all visa requirements into Namibia for all Africans that are holders of diplomatic or official passports. In this context, the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation was directed to transmit this decision to all Namibian Embassies abroad for speedy implementation,” said Geingob.
Business and overall travel on the African continent is on the rise. As is development in Africa. In 2015 alone, the hotel industry planned new deals, which will increase the accommodation offering on the continent by 30% – that’s over 64 000 new planned hotel rooms in 365 hotels in Africa.
In order for Africans to capitalise on this growth and potential, “Africa’s leaders and policymakers have to move freely in support of Agenda 2063’s call to abolish visa requirements for all Africans by 2018,” Moono Mupotola for Regional Integration and Trade at the African Development Bank says. An alternative to visa for Africans in Africa would be creating an African passport, which will allow Africans to move freely across the continent, or at least parts of it.
“Visa openness promotes talent mobility and business opportunities – it is a vital step forward towards a more integrated Africa. There are huge potential gains to be had for countries and regions across Africa in having more visa-open policies for other Africans, whether it is to help plug skills gaps in the labour market, promote entrepreneurship, diversify the economy, add value to services, or whether it is to attract investment and boost competitiveness.
“Opening up a country’s visa regime is a quick-win on development that remains untapped,” Mupotola says. SA’s implementation of new visa regulations for minors saw negative effects on visitor numbers to the country.
Early in 2016, however, significant changes was made visa policies – especially for African travellers.
SA’s Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba in January this year approved the granting of 10-year multiple entry visas to frequent business and academic travellers from Africa.
More recently, discussions held between Kenya’s Joseph Nkaissery and Gigaba also promised for travel regulations to be eased between the two countries’ borders. One of the main adjustments to the visa regulations between SA and Kenya will see an issuing of a three-year multiple entry visa for frequent travelers. Visa service fees have also been decreased by more than R300.
“We are making progress, but need to accelerate the pace,” Acha Leke, Director of McKinsey & Company and member of the WEF Global Agenda Council on Africa says.
On average, according to the Africa Visa Openness Index, Africans need visas to travel to 55% of other African countries, and can get visas on arrival in only 25% of other countries.
In only 20% of other countries on the continent, African travellers don’t need a visa to travel.
The report highlights regional and geographical differences. Currently, 75% of countries in the top 20 most visa-open countries on the continent are in West Africa or East Africa. Only one country in the top 20 is in North Africa and there are none in the top 20 from Central Africa.
The report also shows that Africa’s Middle Income Countries have low visa-openness scores overall, while the continent’s smaller, landlocked and island states are more open.
Regardless of the slow pace, change is evident.
“When we started this work, only five African countries offered liberal access to all Africans. This number has grown to 13 over the past three years,” Leke says. African countries stand to gain from promoting more visa-free regional blocs and pushing for greater reciprocity, as well as from introducing more visa on arrival policies for Africans.
The top 10 countries are Seychelles, Mali, Uganda, Cape Verde, Togo, Guinea-Bissau Mauritania, Mozambique, Mauritius, and Rwanda.
Seychelles offers visa-free access for all Africans. Mauritius and Rwanda, also, have adopted open visa policies for visitors from other African countries and have seen a big impact on tourism, investment and economic competitiveness as a result. The report shows eight of the top 10 countries for openness have seen gains in travel and tourism as a portion of gross domestic product, and in Seychelles, especially, tourism accounted for nearly 57% of the country’s gross domestic product in 2014. The findings of the Visa Openness Index has been developed in partnership with McKinsey & Company and the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Agenda Council on Africa, ahead of the Africa CEO Forum.
Additional reporting by News24