Ritesh Anand Column: Opening of borders vital for Africa trade growth

A RECENT report, the first of its kind, by the African Development Bank titled Africa Visa Openness Report 2016, confirmed that Africa largely remains closed, with Africans still needing visas to travel to over half of the continent. According to the report, Africans need visas to travel to 55% of other African countries, while Africans can get visas on arrival in 25% of other African countries and do not need a visa to travel to 20% of other African countries. These headlines go against the continent’s goal of truly becoming “one Africa”.

Ritesh Anand

ritesh

Tourism minister Walter Mzembi has long argued for the removal of entry visa requirements in Zimbabwe. Having an open visa policy does not require large resources or complex systems. Countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius and Rwanda have seen a big impact on tourism, investment and financial services as a result of opening up their economies. If Zimbabwe is to achieve its goal of generating US$5 billion from tourism, then it almost certainly needs to review its visa regime.

According to the report, African countries are on average more closed off to each other than open, making travel within the continent difficult. Global comparisons show that North Americans have easier travel access to the continent than Africans themselves.

North Americans require a visa to travel to 45% of African countries, can get visas on arrival in 35% of African countries and do not need a visa in 20% of African countries.

Some key findings of the report:

Only 13 out of 55 countries offer liberal access (visa-free or visa on arrival) to all Africans.

Eight out of nine of Africa’s upper-middle-income countries have low visa openness scores.

Only nine African countries offer e-visas: Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

15 African countries out of the top 50 countries worldwide that improved visa procedures the most (2010-2014) are in the top 20 in the Africa Visa Openness Index.

75% of countries in the top 20 most visa-open countries are in West Africa or East Africa.

In the top 20 most visa-open countries, only one is in North Africa and none are in Central Africa.

The average score of the top 10 most visa-open countries is more than double the average score of all countries, which shows how far ahead leading countries are on visa openness. Average visa openness score for the top 10 countries is 0,861, while the average score for all countries is 0,425.

Zimbabwe is ranked 27 out of 55 African countries with a score of 0,319, suggesting that it has a long way to go before it can be considered a visa-open country. Given Zimbabwe’s goal of generating US$5 billion in tourism an urgent review of our visa regime is required.

Aspiration II of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 includes a goal to be a “continent with seamless borders” where “the free movement of people, capital, goods and services will result in significant increases in trade and investments amongst African countries rising to unprecedented levels and strengthen Africa’s place in global trade”.

Greater visa openness is a vital part of the solution in getting Africa to reach that vision. There is a strong business case for visa openness in Africa, which in turn promotes the free movement of people and is at the foundation of deeper and closer integration of the continent.

There are huge potential gains to be had for countries and regions across Africa in having more visa-open policies for other Africans.

It holds true whether it is to help plug skills gaps in the labour market, promote entrepreneurship, diversify the economy, add value to services or whether it is to attract investment and boost competitiveness.

Africa’s population is expected to rise to more than two billion people by 2050. The continent’s economic transformation needs to promote inclusive growth. Expanding opportunities for a growing population puts skills high up the agenda. Skills and talent mobility go hand-in-hand. Removing time, cost and process obstacles to moving freely across the continent, empower Africans to make study or job choices that impact on their incomes.

Visas alone are not the absolute answer when it comes to a more robust outlook for the continent. Africa needs to focus on greater co-operation and regional integration if it is to be successful. African countries need to hold each other to account in pursuit of economic growth and transformation.

According to the African Union Commission chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma: “If we move faster on the free movement of people, goods and services and the African passport, we are sure to see an increase in trade, as well as tourism and economic growth.”

Africa has some way to go when it comes to free movement of people and regional integration. Countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius and Rwanda have benefitted hugely from opening up their economies. Zimbabwe is an attractive tourist destination and it is little wonder why we do not attract as many tourists from the continent.

With depressed commodity prices and poor agricultural production, tourism is a valuable source of revenue for Zimbabwe. African countries, including Zimbabwe, need to focus on opening up their borders and greater regional economic integration if it is to be successful.

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