EDITORIAL: Africa needs to build more self-confidence to fully open up

A lot of ink has dried over the over-excited writings on “Africa rising”, a new sense of hope and rediscovered pan-Africanism.

Two of the continent’s flagship initiatives that gave some glimmer of hope were the Single African Air Transport Market and the African Continental Free Trade Area. But as history has taught us, African countries have this very bad habit of making hope evaporate very quickly.

Many African countries are still skeptical when it comes to liberalising their borders. The latest African Visa Openness Index report has tale-tale signs that we still have a long way to go, Seychelles and Benin are the only African countries that do not demand visas to enter their territories.

The report classifies Rwanda as the continent’s third most open country as it has a visa-on-arrival policy for all countries, not only Africans. But more than half of the African countries demand visas, even from African nationals.

It is interesting to note that it is upper-middle-income countries that are most stringent with their border policies. Maybe they fear that their less fortunate cousins will swarm their streets looking for a better life.

But as Rwanda has shown, opening up has more benefits than risks. Visitor numbers have already soared due to the liberal entry policies.  It has managed to grab a large share of the continent’s MICE market and last year the sector contributed 12.7 per cent of GDP.

Some countries are paranoid and fear the unknown and opening up their borders will need more than just persuasion. They will need to work on their self-confidence; otherwise, the dream of having seamless borders will continue to be a long shot.