Africa’s visa openness amid Covid-19 disruptions

The effects of Covid-19 lockdowns on movements of people across Africa need not be over-emphasized. But suffice to say that Africa has so far weathered the storm commendably. It is even more remarkable that according to a report by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the top 10 countries’ average score on Africa Visa Openness Index (AVOI) rose to 0.094 in 2021, up from 0.092 in 2020.

For illumination, AVOI, which was first published in 2016, measures the extent to which African countries are open to visitors from other African countries. The index analyses each country’s visa requirement to show which countries on the continent facilitate travel to their territories.

For each country, AVOI calculates the number of African countries whose citizens must obtain a visa before travelling there, the number of countries whose citizens may obtain a visa upon arrival, and the number of countries whose citizens do not need a visa to enter. Each country is then assigned a visa openness score and ranked accordingly.

Although visa openness as a whole in Africa dropped over the last year, the Benin Republic, The Gambia, and Seychelles have led the pack in welcoming visitors to their countries from across the continent; all three offerings visa-free access to Africans in 2022, as they also did in 2021.

Namibia, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania also joined the top performers, as was Rwanda. According to the AfDB report, 25 percent of African countries welcome some or all African visitors, visa-free while 24 percent allow some or all African visitors to obtain a visa on arrival as 51 percent require visitors to obtain a visa before arrival.

Between 2016 and 2021, 36 countries representing two-thirds of Africa improved or maintained their AVOI score. In 2021 alone, 24 African countries representing 44 percent of the continent offered an eVisa to visitors, up from nine countries that represent 17 percent of the continent in 2016.

It should be stressed that the eVisa has made it far easier for travelers to practice social distancing, streamline the visa application process, open doors for travelers unable to visit visa points in person for whatever legitimate reasons, and save time for people who prefer to apply for a visa from home.

However, over 80 percent of countries offering eVisa on the continent are in the east, west, and southern Africa. It is nonetheless important to stress the cases of both Tunisia and Morocco which rose five places in 2021 as well as Namibia which rose massive 21 places in the same year.

Interestingly, over half of the 20 performers – namely Benin Republic, Seychelles, The Gambia, Senegal, Ghana, Rwanda, Nigeria, Uganda, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Togo, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Comoros, Madagascar, Somalia, Tanzania, Namibia, and Sierra Leone – have ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement, signed up to the Single African Air Transport Market and signed up the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons. However, only Rwanda has ratified the Protocol on the Movement of Persons; ostensibly to underscore the country’s resolve to boost its trade and tourism sectors.

Free movements across Africa cannot be overstated. Aside from providing the women and youth on the continent opportunity to partake in the share of the prosperity on offer, a market of more than a 1.2billion people is well covered as the current GDP rate of about USD 3 trillion dollars is expected to triple in the next two decades – with wide-ranging opportunities for many. The African Union is in full support of this arrangement with relevant policies.

Read also: Lagos has ‘enough’ COVID vaccines but turnout is low – Mustafa

Likewise, a few voices also support the African Union. One of such voices is Dimieari Von Kemedi, Co-founder and CEO of Alluvial Agriculture and Angalafintech. He said: “A business person should be able to travel easily. This is important if we are going to integrate the region economically. It is just a question of getting the right visa and immigration systems in place.”

Africa Regional Director, International Air Transport Association, Adefunke Adeyemi, also said: “We need the visa regime to be able to help people move around. We also need the right customs regime and the right border automation control and so on to support the movement of people, goods, and services for the development, growth, and sustainability of the African economy as we begin to recover from this pandemic.”

An elated President of the African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, also weighed in his remarks. According to Adesina who is currently serving his second term as the AfDB chief, “The success of all is the success of Africa. Together we would become like a Baobab tree whose roots would be deep enough to touch all parts of Africa.”

We cannot talk about Intra-African Trade and Commerce without allowing free movement of people across the continent. We must hasten the AU passport for all and sundry.

Adefeko is vice president, Corporate & Government Relations, Olam Nigeria.

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