World should reciprocate Rwanda’s new visa regime

What a week! In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe’s government toppled itself, in a rare but efficient political party reinvention strategy; in Kenya, Raila Odinga’s opposition wants to oust Uhuru Kenyatta’s admin through civil disobedience while in Uganda, rivals want to deal President Museveni a technical knockout from power by blocking an adjustment of a constitutional age-cap.

What a week!

In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe’s government toppled itself, in a rare but efficient political party reinvention strategy; in Kenya, Raila Odinga’s opposition wants to oust Uhuru Kenyatta’s admin through civil disobedience while in Uganda, rivals want to deal President Museveni a technical knockout from power by blocking an adjustment of a constitutional age-cap.

Good luck to all the countries as they undergo their respective political trial.

Here in Kigali, it was yet another week of constructive engagement with an historic visit by Estonian leader, Kersti Kaljulaid, who held bilateral talks with President Paul Kagame on a number of aspects.

In Estonia, Rwanda has found an apt friend. Geographically, both countries may be small but this fact doesn’t count for anything if one focused on the soft influence and achievements of the two countries beyond their borders.

President Kaljulaid’s first act after arriving in Kigali on Thursday was to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre; this was a highly symbolic and sacred act; here is why.

Rwanda and Estonia both have a tragic modern history; the latter lost an estimated 7.3 percent of its population during the Second World War – a higher percentage than most other European countries. But both countries have conquered their history in a remarkable way.

Technology is one area where Rwanda and Estonia have distinguished themselves as trendsetters; if you are a Skype user, you have three Estonians to thank for it; Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu and Jaan Tallinn who are credited for creating the video-chat software.

It was therefore not astonishing for the Estonian leader to conclude her two day tour by visiting Rwanda’s Knowledge Lab (Klab), an open technology center where young Rwandan innovators go to work on their projects.

One product of Klab is Patrick Nsenga Buchana, CEO of AC Group and whose Tap & Go bus-card is driving the smart travel agenda in Rwanda and parts of West Africa; he was on the Rwandan delegation that took the Estonian leader on a tour of the innovation hub.

For a long-term bilateral plan, it would be cheering to see an exchange program where young and innovative Rwandan companies such as Patrick’s AC Group, interact with Estonian developers to partner on projects that would lead to the next equivalent of Skype or WhatsApp.

As President Kaljulaid was set to leave the country, on Friday, the Rwandan Government, in a stunning declaration announced it had let its borders wide open to the world with a pledge to grant all visitors 30-day visas on arrival, without prior application.

This announcement was an instant online hit as excited travelers around the world digested the meaning of Kigali’s revolutionary declaration. It doesn’t matter where you are, you are always welcome to Rwanda as you would be assured of a visa on arrival, valid for a full a month!

Rwanda’s new World Wide Gate Visa (WWGV) policy will, in the medium term benefit RwandAir on account of increased inbound traffic from many countries around the world as people respond to Rwanda’s goodwill; such a development would ultimately require that the national career opens new routes to facilitate direct travel.

The 30-day visa is also potentially going to boost tourism revenues; this would in turn have a positive trickledown effect on the stability of the Franc on account of increased demand.

However, for a country that is committed to widening opportunities for its nationals beyond its borders by expanding its international network through public-diplomacy, Rwanda’s new visa policy is the pragmatic way to go as it is a practical incentive for reciprocation by others.

In international relations, the ‘do well onto those that do you well’ (sic) cliché is quite alive and relevant and once strategically followed-up by the country’s diplomatic corps around the world, Rwanda’s move will certainly be reciprocated by a number of avant-garde governments.

As it is, the world is welcome to Rwanda but most outbound Rwandans may not be having as many options as their incoming counterparts. But with the WWGV policy, the Rwandan government has led by example and chances of reciprocation for mutual benefit are now high.

That said, in many ways, it doesn’t make sense anymore to keep countries’ borders locked up to the world beyond, when in actual sense, technology such as Estonia’s Skype have already forced us into integration. Welcome world, to Rwanda!

Views, expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the New Times Publications.

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