More Africans traveled across the region with less bureaucratic demands for visas, thanks to continental goal to open up borders.
The continent has been pushing for easier means for Africans to travel across the region be it for leisure, business or education.
Africa Union officials and local governments like Ghana, Rwanda, and South Africa are reviewing their earlier stringent border restrictions to allow tourism and intra-regional trade.
Aimed at measuring the progress of visa openness in Africa, the African Development Bank has been compiling data on this matter for the past few years. This year’s index shows that up to 20 countries have become more lenient on visa rules over the past two years.
Last year, for example, the African Union (AU) introduced a regional e-passport aimed at facilitating free movement of persons, goods, and services to foster intra-African trade, integration, and socio-economic development. Ghana announced last March that it would avail visas on arrival to citizens of all 54 African Union Member States.
African nations are working under the guidance of AU’s Agenda 2063, which requires all countries in the region to scrap visa requirements for all African citizens by 2018.
More countries have made progress on visa openness in 2016 with four countries moving up into the top 20 most open countries in the index. Over a third of the countries modified their strict visa policies, while others announced specific measures to improve their visa regimes in the future.
Tunisia reviewed visa requirements on arrival for 21 African countries. Malawi is planning to waive visa requirements for citizens from certain regional blocs. Ghana has made the most progress in 2016 by opening up its borders for other African travelers, moving up sixteen places from 2015 to position six in the index. Senegal also loosened visa rules. Now, it allows citizens of 42 African countries to access the country visa-free. It moved up 9 places from 2015.
Still, like last year, the progress is uneven as the majority of the most open countries are in East or West Africa. The index shows that small, landlocked or island countries tend to be more open and bigger on visa openness. More economically stable countries tend to be closed up, such as South Africa, the continent’s most industrialized economy, which requires a visa for more than half of countries on the continent. Just recently, however, South Africa declared that it’s planning to scrap visa requirements for African residents to enter the country. According to the South African Department of Home Affairs, the policy will be legislated by next year.
The first African Passport was launched at the 27th AU Summit in July 2016. It is currently being issued to AU heads of state and government, foreign ministers, and other top-level officials. The electronic passport is inscribed in English, French, Arabic, Portuguese and Swahili.
Like South Africa, Benin, Namibia, and Zimbabwe are looking to open up on visas in the near future.