If African nations opened up their borders and allowed easy movement of people, opportunities are likely to multiply, Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo has said.
The minister was yesterday speaking during a discussion at the ongoing Africa Leadership Network 2014 in Kigali.
The symposium is running under the theme, “Foreign Policy as a Driver of Prosperity.”
The session was addressing concerns like why do Africans still need visas to travel to so many other African countries? Why is it sometimes easier for a Westerner to enter an African country than a fellow African?
What are the economic costs of these and other foreign policy decisions on trade, investment, and tourism in Africa? How can foreign policy be leveraged better to bring prosperity to Africa?
Mushikiwabo said some countries are not densely populated, which means they can easily open up and encourage African nationals to visit.
However, the minister appreciated that the issues of migration are sovereign matters, with every country having the right to articulate measures that they think are appropriate.
“The benefits for those who have opened up are becoming more and more known and various authorities around the continent are looking at options to ease movements,” she said.
The minister said the more the benefits of intra-Africa trade and cross border trade, the more people will realise that it’s beneficial.
“There is no doubt we gain more by opening up than closing our borders,” she said.
There are 13 countries on the continent that allow Africans to visit without a visa, including Rwanda.
Statistics indicate that Somali request the most visas to travel around Africa – about 74 per cent – but Somalia asks fewer visas than any other country to enter.
Kenya, Gambia and Ivory Coast require the least number of African visas, while Egypt and São Tomé and Principe require most visas from Africans to enter.
Experts say that one of the reasons why African countries do not easily open up is due to insecurity fears and labour policies.
However, according to Mushikiwabo, countries need to invest more in internal security instead of restricting movements.
“In terms of opening up, it is important to invest more in internal security and (look into) labour policies as opposed to making entry difficult. What works for Rwanda may not work for another country but for economic reasons, we should make it much easier for Africans to travel within,” she said.
The minister used Rwanda as a case study where the country has opened up its borders, saying the decision “greatly benefits the country.”
“The impact of opening Rwanda’s borders to labour from Africa has been remarkable. Business became more competitive,” she said.
Regionally, a year ago, Rwanda Uganda and Kenya decided to take a decision to market themselves as one. The region has since reaped big from the initiative, officials say.
“The impact has been tremendously good for Rwanda. It turned out that the competitiveness of Rwandan businesses has stepped up, and the services, especially in financial services have improved,” she said.
Is Ebola affecting internal movement in Africa?
Concerns raised during the sessions included how Ebola has affected businesses on the continent and movement of people.
Mushikiwabo said Rwanda has not placed any restrictions on travellers and believes that Ebola is a global concern that requires global attention, not isolation.
“Rwanda has not closed its borders at all for any country that has experienced the epidemic. What we have done is screening for countries where our national carrier flies, that includes Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, and South Africa,” she said.
The minister explained that Rwanda agreed with countries affected in West Africa that passengers should be screened before they board.
“We sent health officials there to make sure that the screening is done before boarding.
“Also on arrival at the airport and various borders we have a process of identification based on countries someone has traveled to in the last 21 days and if someone has a fever they are quarantined for 21 days.
“We have also made it clear that Ebola is not an epidemic that is to be fought by countries where it is, it is a global concern that goes beyond Africa.”
Mushikiwabo said as far as Rwanda is concerned, the country believes that people from affected countries shouldn’t be isolated and kept away.
The Africa Leadership Network is a platform for leaders to engage with each other, build trust, collaborate and drive prosperity in Africa.
The 5th African Leadership Meeting opened on Wednesday and will close tomorrow.
The meeting is attended by various officials, including ministers, financial advisors, investors and entrepreneurs.
The objective is to build relationships and craft cross-border partnerships to grow their business, change policies and achieve social impact.
The Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship are also part of the event.