President Paul Kagame yesterday congratulated his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta and the Kenyan people during Kenya’s presidential inauguration in Nairobi.
Speaking in Swahili, Kagame conveyed regards and congratulations to the Kenyan people.
“Citizens of Kenya, I am here to congratulate you. The people of Rwanda send you their greetings and congratulations for your well-deserved election victory,” he said.
The inauguration was attended by heads of state and government from across the continent – and Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu – who were later hosted to a state banquet.
At the event, Kenyatta announced that his government was opening up the country to Africans by adopting a visa on arrival regime for Africa passport holders.
“The free movement of people on the continent has always been the cornerstone of African brotherhood and fraternity. Today, I am directing that any African wishing to visit Kenya will be eligible to a visa at the port of entry. To underscore Kenya’s commitment, this will not be done on the basis of reciprocity,” Uhuru said.
He said, by opening up borders, the continent will appreciate diversity, embrace integration and reduce negative identity politics.
Kenyatta also pledged to scale up efforts toward the East African Community to deliver prosperity.
“To our brothers and sisters in the East African Community, you are our closest friends; our fate and yours are joined at the hip; our troubles and triumphs are yours, and yours are ours. I will work with you, my brothers, the leaders of the East African Community, to bring a renewed energy and optimism to our union,” he said.
Kenya’s new government will also improve integration across the region by making it possible for citizens of all the six EAC member states to work, do business, own property and live in Kenya without requiring a visa.
“As a mark of our continued commitment to the East African Community, from today, you will be treated like Kenyans. Like your Kenyan brothers and sisters, you will need only your identity card. You can now work, do business, own property, farm and if you wish, and find a willing partner, you can marry and settle in Kenya. And this commitment we make with no conditions for reciprocity but driven by our desire for deeper regional integration,” the Kenyan president said.
The decision by Kenya is viewed as a great step toward achievement of a visa-free Africa, which could improve opportunities for all Africans.
Under a tripartite arrangement, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have for the last three years allowed free movement of their citizens across their borders. Kenya has now opened up to the citzens of the other regional states – Tanzania and Burundi and South Sudan.
Speaking to The New Times from Nairobi, Rwandan High Commissioner to Kenya James Kimonyo encouraged more regional states to be part of the move as it was a “sure path to regional integration.”
He said the move by the three countries has had a great impact, especially in investments and commerce.
The African Union is currently working toward realisation of free movement of Africans across the continent.
The 2017 African Visa Openness Index report by African Development Bank showed that movement across the continent still poses a challenge.
The report showed that African passport holders require visa to access 54 per cent of countries on the continent with only 10 countries that do not require a visa for Africans, while only 24 per cent countries have provisions for visa-on-arrival.
Commenting on the development on Twitter, African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki called on other nations to follow suit to improve free movement of Africans.
“Delighted by Pres @UKenyatta’s announcement to issue visas at arrival for all Africans visiting Kenya. Congratulations on this historic decision! I urge all African states that have not yet done so, to take similar measures towards free movement for all Africans across Africa,” he tweeted.
With the decision, Kenya joins countries like Rwanda, Mauritius and Seychelles in not requiring visas for Africans prior to arrival.
Recently, in a first, Rwanda went a step further opening its borders with a new visa regime that allows citizens from every nation across the world to receive a visa upon arrival.