Rwandan youth push for a visa-free Africa

Rwandan youth under the Kigali Global Shapers hub—an arm of the Global Shapers community—have started a campaign to remove visas requirements for Africans traveling to other African countries.

The hub which has been vocal about the possibility of seeing free movement of Africans across the continent, also partnered with the World Economic Forum (WEF), among other stakeholders, to develop the topic, ‘How can Africa become an integrated continent with free movement of people, goods and talent?’ that was debated during the recent World Economic Forum on Africa.

It was argued that since it is easier for US or some European citizens to travel within Africa than it is for Africans—with only 13 out of 55 countries offering visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to all Africans—why not open African borders for Africans or perhaps make it possible for African to access visas upon arrival?

The Kigali Shapers believe that with a visa-free Africa, the continent will easily realise her conceptual integration and much envisioned development agenda.

The Global Shapers Community, an Initiative of the World Economic Forum, is a network of localised hubs developed and led by young people in their respective countries, who are exceptional in their potential, their achievements and their drive to make a contribution to their communities. 

The community was initiated in 2011, while the Kigali hub was formed a year later, with Diana Mpyisi as the founding curator.  

There are over 5000 shapers globally distributed in about 500 cities..

Ephraim Rwamwenge, a member of the Kigali hub, said they resolved to push for a visa-free discussion during WEF, after suffering a number of setbacks while traversing the continent on both private and corporate missions.

“The possibility of having a visa-free Africa, will not only facilitate free movement of people and goods, but it would also help bridge the skills gap on the continent,” he said.

Rwamwenge added: “As Kigali Shapers, we are lucky that Rwanda became the first country to open its borders to African nationals, and our friends from other African countries tell us how advantageous it has been, for them to travel and work in Rwanda. We also want to see and speak of the same good news when we travel to other African countries for business meetings or for whatever reasons.”

Calls for visa free movements around Africa for African passport holders has dominated in a number of high-level meetings held on the continent, in the recent times.

African leaders such as President Paul Kagame, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote and the African Development Bank have championed the cause of free movement of people and goods which would facilitate economic integration and boost the continent’s economies.

Rwanda opened its borders to African passport holders in 2013, allowing visitors to get visas at 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 in 2014.

Officials from Rwanda 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.

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 2014, 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. And the integration has been termed as a model for other regions to emulate in action to promote intra-Africa trade.

Call for AU to act

The benefits of easy mobility has also pushed Kigali Global Shapers to petition for the visa free Africa agenda to be effected during the African Union summit to be held in Kigali, in July.

The Sunday Times understands that, Kigali Shapers started the online Visa-free Africa petition, and now they have about 1,000 signatories, and the target is to reach 1,500 signatories, for the petition to be delivered to African Union Heads of States summit due to take place in Kigali in about a month’s time.

“The issue of traveling across Africa is a recurrent issue. When we discussed it with our fellow 50 global shapers from 23 African countries, who attended WEF in Kigali—they were willing to support our initiative to join the rest of those organisations that are pushing for a Visa free Africa”, said Michaella Rugwizangoga, a member of the youthful forum.

According to Phillipe Nyirimihigo, another member of Kigali Shapers Hub, the purpose of the call for action is “not to say to African leaders to remove visas overnight, but to realise a need for seamless mobility of Africans in Africa.”

For the past 30 years, Africa has attempted to address free movement. A continental strategy document was signed during one of the AU summits, but nothing concrete has materialized. African Union’s target is to abolish visa requirements for Africans in African countries by 2018.

“I recently traveled to Senegal and I got a visa upon arrival. It was the shortest visa work I have ever had in my lifetime. African governments should make movements easy for Africans, if we want to develop,” Rugwizangoga said.

Reports suggest that Rwanda plans to remove visa requirements for African nationals travelling to the country by 2018, as it seeks to entice more investors and tourists from the continent. In so doing, Rwanda will join Seychelles as the only countries to scrap the requirement for all 55 African countries.