Dar es Salaam. As African countries continue to open their borders to allow free movement of people across the continent, the East African region emerged top in visa openness among all regions.
The 2019 Visa openness report, published by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the African Union (AU), indicates that reciprocity of visa openness in East Africa is 60 per cent, behind West Africa with 100 per cent while Arab Maghreb Union becomes third.
The report also shows that the EAC regional visa openness scores between 2016 and 2019 recorded an improvement of 0.588 higher than all regions average increase of 0.459.
West Africa was the second top mover with 0.583, followed by Southern Africa with 0.439.
However, two regions including North Africa and Central Africa experienced the decrease of their scores during the period by 0.258 and 0.166 respectively.
“Progress is being made but much still needs to be done. To integrate Africa, we should bring down all the walls! The free movement of people, and especially labour mobility, are crucial for promoting investments,” commented Dr Akinwumi Adesina, President of African Development Bank Group.
“An African continent without travel and document restrictions should be an Africa we can be proud of,” commented Mr Kwesi Quartey, the Deputy Chairperson, African Union Commission.“It is clear that the aspiration for an integrated Africa, with free movement of people, as set out in Agenda 2063, remains unchanged.”
He added; “Here, an African business traveller can meet contacts in another capital at a moment’s notice; an African family can visit eco-tourism sites in a neighbouring country with ease; and African students can move freely across national borders to gain the labour market skills they need.”
The Africa Visa Openness Index measures how open African countries are when it comes to visas by looking at what they ask of citizens from other countries in Africa when they travel.
The index report shows that EAC has nine countries out of top 20 most visa open, followed by West Africa with seven countries and southern Africa with only three countries.
East African countries featured in the report are Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda.
The report also shows that Rwanda is top most visa open country in EA after scoring 0.864 points in 2019, followed by Uganda with 0.853, Kenya with 0.823, Ethiopia with 0.777 and Tanzania is fifth with 0.679.
Rwanda is leading because it has joined the Single African Air Transport market, signed the protocol of free movement of persons, has ratified the continental free trade area and is offering eVisa.
During the period, Tanzania improved its score by 0.039 points following the adoption of e-visa and signing of a protocol on free movement of persons (PFMP), and positioned at 19th in the continent.
The PFMP, which also covers the right of residence and establishment on the continent, had been signed by 32 countries as of mid-July 2019.
However, the report shows that non ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Areas and failure to join the single African Air Transport Market remained the major challenge for Tanzania to be most visa open.
The AfCFTA will be one of the largest free trade areas in the world, covering 1.2 billion people, growing to 2.5 billion by 2050.
Empowering Africa’s population to travel will be vital to facilitate both trade flows and capital investment, according to the report.
Currently, peoples from 16 African countries do not need visas to come to Tanzania, while citizens of 25 countries obtain their visas on arrival.
The report also indicates that only peoples from 12 countries need visas to come to Tanzania, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s report for June-July 2019.
The Vice-President, AfDB’s regional development, integration and business delivery, Dr. Khaled Sherif comments that in 2019, a record 47 countries improved or maintained their visa openness scores, which on average are rising year-on-year.
“Today, African travellers no longer need a visa to travel to a quarter of other African countries, whereas visa-free travel was only possible to a fifth of the continent in 2016,” he said.
To streamline the travellers’ experience, 21 countries Africa-wide, including Tanzania, now provide eVisa platforms, boosting transparency and accessibility.
The report indicates that the number of countries offering eVisas increased by 31 per cent in 2019, with 21 countries now hosting an online platform from 16 in 2018.
Two-thirds of countries that offer eVisas also made the most progress on visa openness since 2016, with the majority having recently introduced the system.
Moving forward, the index report says, championing greater visa openness across Africa will help capitalize on the gains to be realized from the launch of the Free Trade Area, the Single African Air Transport Market and the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons.
According to the report, Seychelles and Benin are being ranked the most visa-open countries in Africa with 1.000 scores each, as they allow all Africans an entrance without visas.
Senegal is ranked third with 0.883 scores, as citizens from 22 countries do not need a visa while peoples from 31 countries obtain visa on arrival with no visa requirements.
Rwanda is the fourth in Africa with 0.864 scores, as residents of 17 countries do not need visas when entering the country while those from 36 countries are obtaining their visa on arrival.