At a time when a number of countries across the world are adopting protectionist policies such as strict visa regimes, Africa continues to open up borders. Rwanda is one of the most open countries on the continent.
Among fears that countries have advanced to tighten visa regimes include concerns on security, erosion of their respective cultures, as well as economic vulnerabilities.
However, multiple indexes show that Rwanda – which started the effort to relax visa restrictions on citizens of the world in 2013 – has not suffered from these challenges.
The Africa Visa Openness Index Report 2018 published yesterday by the African Development Bank and the Africa Union Commission ranked Rwanda third on the continent in regards to visa openness.
The Visa Openness Index assesses the progress African countries have realised in relaxing their visa regimes.
The ranking, released in Addis Ababa, comes weeks after a Gallup Poll ranked Rwanda the third most welcoming country for migrants worldwide, behind Iceland and New Zealand.
The latest Visa Openness Index noted that Rwanda continues to move up the rankings.
The authors of the report also observed that Rwanda has served as a model for countries seeking to open up their borders and liberalising movement citing the case of Ethiopia and Benin.
“Africans enjoy liberal access to Rwanda, with no visa required for 15 countries and visa on arrival for 38 countries. A top 10 performer on the Index since 2016, the country’s open visa policy has inspired countries Africa-wide, including Benin, and soon Ethiopia, to liberalise their visa regimes,” the report reads in part.
Liberalising travel to Rwanda, the index said, has among other things promoted the country as a conference destination as well as contribution of tourism to GDP.
Between 2013 and 2016, the number of Africans receiving visas on arrival in Rwanda increased by more than 100 per cent, says the report.
“The country attracted higher numbers of visitors, greater investment, and hosted more conferences due to the removal of travel restrictions. Total travel and tourism contributed 12.7 per cent to Rwanda’s GDP in 2017 and is forecast to rise by 6.8 per cent in 2018, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council Economic Impact 2018 report,” the report adds.
According to Sanny Ntayombya, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) Head of Communication and Marketing, a progressive visa regime has improved accessibility to investors and tourists consequently driving up receipts.
“Our visa policy, which grants visas on arrival for all nationals, has played a major role in ensuring that the visa-related bottlenecks for potential investors and tourists have been removed. Over the last decade, the number of MICE delegates visiting Rwanda jumped from 15,000 in 2008 to 28,300 in 2017 and earned Rwanda $42m in 2017,” said Ntayombya.
He added: “We are targeting $74 million in MICE revenues this year. Today, we are ranked third in Africa as a conference destination. This all would not have been possible without visa reforms.”
Further reforms required
African passport holders require visas to travel to over half the countries in the continent, the new report says.
“As infrastructure expands across Africa, and tangible trade and investment opportunities are put on the table, Africans will need to travel with greater ease. Solutions such as the African passport, visa-free regional blocs, multi-year visas, or visa-on-arrival schemes should continue to be promoted,” the report reads in part.
The report also said 2018 is a landmark year in Africa’s regional integration efforts, especially with the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area and the Single African Air Transport Market.
The top 20 most visa-open countries continue to improve their average score, reflecting the countries’ more liberal visa policies. In addition, 43 countries improved or maintained their score.
Benin was found to have made the most progress in opening up its borders to African travelers, moving from 27th place in 2017 to 1st place in 2018.
Seychelles is ranked second in visa openness for Africans, ahead of Rwanda in third place.
Both Benin and Seychelles offer visas to all Africans at no cost, the report says.
Zimbabwe also broke into the top 20 with the introduction of a visa-on-arrival policy for SADC members.
Overall, when compared to 2017, Africans do not need a visa to travel to 25 per cent of other African countries (up from 22 per cent); can get visas on arrival in 24 per cent of other African countries, and need visas to travel to 51% of other African countries.