Rwanda is opening up to prosperity

Rwanda has once again raised its profile as a destination country with the announcement last week of the World Wide Gate Visa (WWGV).

Rwanda has once again raised its profile as a destination country with the announcement last week of the World Wide Gate Visa (WWGV).

Visitors from any part of the world will get a visa at any point of entry without prior application beginning 1st January 2018.

Predictably, the bold move has received wide applause from local and international observers.

It also comes in the wake of Rwanda assuming chairmanship of the African Union’s Specialised Technical Committee (STC) on Migration, Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. The country took over the leadership at the Second Ordinary Session of the STC held in Kigali last month.

And, earlier this week, Rwanda showed its mettle by announcing willingness to take in up to 30,000 African immigrants currently stuck in Libya. The immigrants got world attention being exposed to all sorts of abuse, including being sold openly in slave markets in the Northern Africa country.

It goes to show what is possible where there is some political will and leading by example.

To borrow the cliché, it is putting money where your mouth is, which speaks to the country’s boldness in its new leadership role of the Specialised Technical Committee, now buttressed by its willingness to accept the immigrants and all comers with the World Wide Gate Visa policy.

This year’s Africa Visa Openness Report by the AU and African Development Bank Group says 20 countries out of the 55 on the continent have now attained “the most visa-open” status for African citizens. With the new WWGV policy, Rwanda now raises the ante.

“Most visa-open” status describes a liberal or relaxed visa policy for travellers so that visitors either do not need a visa when they enter or can get a visa on arrival. The significance of Rwanda’s move is therefore obvious, going beyond Africa to welcome world citizens.

The WWGV policy portends not only a great boon to trade and tourism for the country but also helps focus on any concerns expressed by other countries on the continent on the dividends vis-à-vis perceived security threats and sovereignty issues.

But these issues have been considered. The country’s Foreign Minister is on record saying that the benefits of the policy outweigh any potential setbacks.

Rwanda’s new openness policy should also be a boon to the larger Eastern Africa, which already leads with 8 countries being the most visa open for African citizens.

Specifically, one can contemplate how entry into the country may benefit its EAC state partners with the single tourist visa. Unless Uganda and Kenya come up with their own version of the WWGV policy soon, it can be expected something should rub off Rwanda’s lead on to the two countries. The combined tourism potential suggests it.

More broadly, West Africa closely follows with 7 most visa-open countries on the continent, according to the 2017 Africa Visa Openness Report. Southern Africa has four countries, North Africa one and none so far are in Central Africa meriting the status.

And yet the report notes that there has been some forward movement with the increase to 20 countries, though much still remains to be done. Only 13 countries offered visa-free or visa-on-arrival by 2015.

The report observes how, with the recent global debates on closing down borders, the trend for greater openness in Africa offers a positive counterbalance; how breaking down barriers to travel is seen to promote prosperity and growth.

One cannot fail to notice the optimism, of which the effort must be sustained if we are to keep with the set Agenda 2063 milestones.

Though ambitious, given the intra- and inter-regional issues that remain to be ironed out, some of the milestones include mandatory granting of a minimum 30-day visa for African citizens visiting any African country by 2018 and a single continental passport by 2020.

The Second Ministerial meeting of the Specialised Technical Committee in Kigali set the pace towards accomplishing these.

Among other objectives, the meeting looked into the Global Compact on Safe, Ordinary and Regular Migration, that will culminate with the continent presenting its Common African Position (CAP) towards the outcome of the 2018 intergovernmental conference on international migration.

Ensuring stronger connections between countries and citizens necessarily allows free trade where anyone to seek their fortune where they will in any corner of the world.

The ideal, however, must be matched by commensurate political will even as challenges associated with risks of widespread economic migration, movement of illegal goods, cross-border terrorism, and the issue of stateless individuals must be collectively anticipated and countered.

With the World Wide Gate Visa policy, Rwanda has shown that it is possible.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.