Rwanda has emerged as the leading champion of visa openness in Africa for 2023, showcasing an increasingly liberal visa regime established over the past eight years, according to the latest Africa Visa Openness Report 2023 released on December 12. The report contains this year’s findings of the Africa Visa Openness Index (AVOI), a joint initiative of the African Development Bank and the African Union (AU) Commission. AVOI measures the extent to which African countries are open to visitors from other African countries. It analyses each country’s visa requirements to show which nations on the continent most facilitate travel to their territory. As per the report, in 2016, Rwanda allowed the citizens of nearly 90 per cent of African countries to obtain a visa on arrival; with citizens of the remaining countries being able to enter the country without a visa. It later dropped visa requirements for the citizens of the entire continent. “This has eased the burden of travel for the citizens of 35 African countries who had hitherto been required to obtain a visa on arrival. It has also given effect to the country’s commitment to the African Union’s Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment: Rwanda is one of only four countries that have signed and ratified it,” the report reads in part. In the report, the President of African Development Bank Group, Akinwumi Adesina, was quoted as saying “trade is not done in a vacuum. It’s people that trade. Apart from the fact that you need connectivity, you also need freedom for people to move from one place to the other.” As of 2018, Rwanda’s policy was largely based on the visa-on-arrival principle, without requiring prior application. According to the Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration, the country’s latest Visa Regime (of March 2020), waived visa requirements, including fees, for all Africans – in 55 countries making up the continent. On November 2, 2023, during the 23rd World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit that took place in Kigali, President Paul Kagame referred to that development saying, “any African can get on a plane to Rwanda whenever they wish and will not pay a thing to enter our country.” ALSO READ: Exploring the world with a Rwandan passport: 63 visa-free destinations Indeed, Africa is making strides in its visa openness policies, boding well for cross border travel, ease of movement and trade in 2024 and beyond, the report pointed out. It revealed that much progress was made since the seventh edition of the report that was published in December 2022. It indicated that visa openness achieved its highest score ever in 2023, surpassing levels last seen prior to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. ALSO READ: Rwanda’s open border policy comes into force Since the first report was published in 2016, 36 countries have improved their score on the index, 42 countries extend visa-free entry to citizens from at least five other African countries, 33 countries do so to citizens of at least 10 countries, while four countries – up from three last year – eliminated all visa requirements for African travellers. They are Rwanda, Benin, The Gambia, and Seychelles. All key overall matrices have shown improvements in 2023. In 28 per cent of all intra-Africa travel scenarios, African citizens do not require a visa (an improvement from 27 per cent in 2022 and 20 per cent in 2016). A visa is still required in 46 per cent of travel scenarios on the continent – down from 47 per cent in 2022 and 55 per cent in 2016, the report revealed. “It makes it easier for Africans to visit their families, pursue education and business interests abroad, and discover Africa as tourists. It also contributes towards the fulfillment of aspirations for a prosperous, integrated continent where people can develop their potential unhampered by overly restrictive visa regimes,” observed Jean-Guy Afrika, Acting Director of the African Development Bank’s Regional Integration Coordination Office.