In 2013, the African Union adopted Agenda 63, as a blueprint to propel the continent to prosperity within the next 50 years.
As part of the agenda, African countries committed to abolishing visa requirements for all African citizens travelling within the continent by 2018.
According to the second Africa Visa Openness Index, released mid this year, 75 per cent of the countries in the top 20 most visa-open countries are in either Eastern or West Africa, while 20 per cent are in Southern Africa.
Only one country in the top 20 most open to visas is in North Africa (Mauritania), while no countries in Central Africa appear in the top 20.
On January 1, 2013, Rwanda eased visa requirements for African nationals.
All holders of African passports travelling to or transiting through the country are issued an entry visa upon arrival at any Rwandan entry point. And, some countries do not require visas at all.
For Rwandans, however, of the 53 African countries, only 29 allow holders of the Rwandan passport to enter without a visa or issue it on arrival.
Reaping from open borders
The Chief Executive of Rwanda Convention Bureau (RCB), Frank Murangwa, said opening borders to Africans has contributed to the growth of the economy, especially in terms of increasing in-bound delegate numbers.
“It has helped facilitate both local businesses and employment opportunities. This year alone, RCB has hosted big events like YouthConnekt Africa (1,000 delegates) and Transform Africa Summit (1,500 delegates), both bringing in delegates, most of whom were visiting the country for the first time. The delegates have a positive economic impact,” he said.
Murangwa said that African delegates are a growing target audience hailing the country’s decision to open its borders, thus easing the process of acquiring African Conferences, Events and Exhibitions.
Dr Frederick Golooba-Mutebi is a researcher and analyst. He told The New Times that travelling through Africa is hard for Africans because some of the countries on the continent sometimes make it even more difficult to obtain a visa than one to Europe or the US.
“I will give you an example. I wanted to go to Cameroon and I had to apply two months prior because that is the condition. Getting a British visa takes 15 working days, why should it take me that long to go to Cameroon?” he asked.
“As a Ugandan, when I apply for a visa to South Africa, I rarely get multiple entry visas that last more than two months. For Africans, it is relatively easier to travel to Europe or to the Americas than it is in some African countries and I think that is ridiculous,” Golooba-Mutebi added.
He said that while applying for a visa to Canada could get one a 10-year multiple entry visa, five to 10 years for the UK, 10 for the US, it is virtually impossible to get a 10-year visa to any African country.
Golooba-Mutebi said relaxing visa requirements like Ghana and Rwanda have done on can only be a good thing for Africans wishing to travel within the continent whether for work or tourism since it is easy to enter and easy to leave.
Indeed, North Americans need a visa to travel to only 45 per cent of African countries. They do not need a visa in 20 per cent of the countries and can get a visa on arrival 35 per cent.
The Africa Visa Openness index shows that to travel to other African countries, Africans need visas to enter 55 per cent of states within the continent.
“Only 20 per cent of nations allow Africans to enter without visas, with 25 per cent offering visas on arrival,” adds the report commissioned by the African Development Bank.
Lucy Mbabazi, a financial technology expert, said that though more was still needed to fine-tune the entire travelling process, the continued increase in the number of countries that Rwandans can visit now visa-free is great news.
“Hustle-free travel is everything. Being able to avoid having to go through the process of applying, paying, waiting is something great. There are definitely some improvements from a visa perspective though we still have a long way to go when it comes to flight connecting side. It should be affordable to buy a ticket, it should be easy to check in online and for Africa, it is still very manual but hopefully that too will change,” she said.
Justus Mucyo, the head of African Retail Operation at BBOXX, a local company providing affordable solar solutions, said the scrapping of entry visas is invaluable to a company that has plans to expand beyond the borders.
“I am looking forward to travelling the continent for professional reasons. I work for a company that has a vision of operating in as many African countries as possible so if I can travel without requiring a visa, then that is invaluable,” Mucyo says.
One of the arguments against opening up borders is security-related risks.
However, the head of communication and customer care at the Rwanda Immigration and Emigration, Yves Butera, said the benefits outweigh the challenges.
“If all parties collaborate in putting in place infrastructure to address the challenges, all citizens will benefit,” he said.
According to the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), in 2008, Africans comprised, on average 88 per cent of the world’s population to apply for a traditional visa. This decreased to 57 per cent in 2015 because many African countries have introduced travel facilitation measures such as visa on arrival and e-Visa.
The idea of easing travel for Africans within the continent is gaining momentum as African leaders are increasingly becoming open to integration.
The leaders believe the opportunities of trading with each other are under-exploited and, by easing travel, trade, tourism and cooperation will bring immense benefits for the African people.
According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 2017 Report on African Tourism, the fastest growing tourism in Africa is intra-African tourism which happens all year through.
UNCTAD secretary-general Mukhisa Kituyi recently told participants at the 41st Annual World Tourism Conference in Kigali that, for African tourism to thrive, there was need to change Africa’s image perception. He emphasised the importance of peace and security.
“The most startling and interesting discovery in our study is that, by far, the fastest growing tourism in Africa is intra-African tourism, which happens 12 months a year. Over the last 10 years, intra-African tourism has grown from 34 per cent to 44 per cent of total African tourism revenues and is projected to be more than 50 per cent in the next 10 years,” Kituyi said.