Open visa policy in Africa is not a security risk – experts

Passengers queue to board a RwandAir plane during the launch of Kigali-Cape Town route recently. Experts have called on African countries to emulate Rwanda by embracing a visa-free policy. / Sam Ngendahimana

Experts have said that many countries in Africa can gain more by opening up their borders to visitors. They advised the countries to emulate Rwanda’s open visa policy, which has allowed issuing visas to all citizens of the world on arrival in the country since 2018.

Since January 1, 2018, all visitors to Rwanda started to get a 30-day visa upon arrival without prior application.

In a debate organised this week by the Kigali-based Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP) in partnership with the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung Rwanda, experts from governmental and non-governmental organisations examined why it was important to implement an ‘open society project’.

Recognising that migration movements exist all over the world, they looked at how migratory movements can be “managed” and what should be done to ensure successful integration of refugees.

Dr. Pierre Claver Rutayisire, an expert in demography and a lecturer of Migration and Spatial Mobility at the African Centre of Excellence in Data Science, was one of the keynote speakers. He looked at the migration policies of African countries, pointing out the need for them to come up with friendly policies.

“Going to Malawi, for example, you need a visa and you cannot get one on arrival, neither can you from here. You have to get someone in Malawi to invite you, or apply the visa for you, and then you receive it at the airport. The same is happening in Tunisia. So, you ask yourself, why is this happening?” he said.

For him, Rwanda’s open visa policy is a good move, despite the fact that people may link the open visa with insecurity, especially in regard to international terrorism threat that is coming up now.

However, noting that Rwanda hasn’t registered cases of international terrorism as a result of the open-visa policy, Rutayisire believes that the policy poses no problems.

“In Rwanda, foreign nationals convicted of such cases are very low,” he said.

JakobPreuss, a German documentary filmmaker, was also one of the speakers. Preuss is known for “When Paul came over the sea,” a documentary showcasing the life of a Cameroonian migrant and how he struggled  across the Sahara desert to the Moroccan coast, finally making it to Europe.

Preuss rooted for the positivity of migration. He gave an example of the economic effects of migration in form of diversifying societies and transfer of knowledge.

“It’s in the interest of a country to allow migration in both directions,” he said.

“It (migration) is beneficial for both sides. To the places where the migrants go, societies become diverse, look at the example of the USA; its diverse society has registered great innovation and economic success. It’s good as well for the countries left. On returning, people bring new knowledge, some send remittances back home,” he said.

He added: “Some people say that remittances are better than international aid because they go directly to people’s families. And international aid? Well, 50 per cent of it goes who knows where?” he added. He however warned about brain drain as something that can be negative about migration.