Integration is the new phenomenon that is taking up the world stage with countries across the globe realizing that when nations pool their resources together they can experience immense growth and security.
One major player in any integration is immigration. Immigration is a factor that not only allows the movement of goods and people but it is also a mover of factors of production.
Recently, Africa has embarked on the amalgamation of various national departments especially among regional blocs like East Africa Community (EAC) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
In a bid to evaluate integration and particularly visa openness in Africa, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has released a report that shows that despite African nations pushing for integration, the continent largely remains closed off to African travelers.
The African Visa Openness Index indicates that on average Africans need visas to travel to 55% of other African countries, can get visas on arrival in only 25% of other countries and don’t need a visa to travel to just 20% of other countries on the continent.
These findings which were developed in partnership with McKinsey & Company and the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Agenda Council on Africa, were launched ahead of the Africa CEO Forum in Abidjan, on 21-22 March 2016, where the results of the survey will be presented and discussed at length.
“Opening up a country’s visa regime is a quick-win on development that remains untapped,” says Moono Mupotola, Director of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Regional Integration and Trade at the African Development Bank. “Visa openness promotes talent mobility and business opportunities. Africa’s leaders and policymakers have a key role to play in helping Africans to move freely in support of Agenda 2063’s call to abolish visa requirements for all Africans by 2018.”
Most visa-open countries are in East and West Africa
“Having an open visa policy does not require large resources or complex systems”, Akinwumi Adesina, President of African Development Bank says in the forward of the report. “Countries can apply positive reciprocity but also open up unilaterally. And it can be done through a number of smart solutions,” he adds appreciating that as a result of opening up, countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius and Rwanda have seen a big impact on tourism, investment and financial services.
According to the report which looked at the regional and geographical differences, 75% of countries in the top most visa-open countries on the continent are in West Africa or East Africa. Only one country (Mauritania) in the top 20 is in North Africa and there are none in the top 20 from Central Africa. Further, the report indicates that Africa’s Middle-Income Countries have low visa-openness scores overall while the continent’s smaller, landlocked and island states are more open.
The African Visa Openness Index placed Seychelles at number one in Africa for its visa openness policy, offering visa-free access for all Africans. Mali comes in second offering visa on arrival to some Africans while some other travelers do not require a visa to enter the country. Mauritius and Rwanda, who are in the top 10 most visa-open countries, have adopted open visa policies for visitors from other African countries and have seen a big impact on tourism, investment, and economic competitiveness as a result.
Africa needs to accelerate the level of visa openness to hasten growth
Acha Leke Director of McKinsey & Company and a member of the WEF Global Agenda Council on Africa notes that there has been development over the past three years. “When we started this work, only 5 African countries offered liberal access to all Africans; this number has grown to 13 over the past three years. We are making progress, but need to accelerate the pace.”
By promoting more visa-free regional blocs, African countries stand to benefit. The report argues that visa-openness can be improved through pushing for greater reciprocity as well as introducing more visa on arrival policies for Africans.
In comparison to the African States, North Americans have easier travel access to the continent than Africans themselves. According to the report, North Americans require a visa to travel to 45% of African countries, can get visas on arrival in 35% of African countries and don’t need a visa in 20% of African countries.
EAC at the forefront in pursuance of integration
The treaty of cooperation between Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda has allowed the free movement of persons, labor and services. Under article 104 of the Treaty, the Partner States have ensured the enjoyment of the right of establishment and residence of their citizens within the East African Community.
The EAC was established in 1967. Unfortunately, it fell apart in 1977 following political differences between the Partner States. After two decades, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania renewed efforts to restore the cooperation. This led to the rebirth of the East African Community in 1999. In 2007, Rwanda and Burundi joined making the EAC a five-member regional economic bloc.
Under EAC, the region has been able to introduce common market which has stimulated intra-African trade. The slowing down of growth in the BRICS countries has had a negative impact on the EAC budgets. However, the strengthening of the African Market is set to attract more foreign direct investment into the region as well as encourage intra-regional trade.
Further, EAC will soon launch a new generation e-East African passport. The e-passport will ease movement within and outside the community, fulfilling one of the mandates of the EAC.
In future, the East African bloc will introduce the use of a single currency. This development will support investment and trade without the hustles of transactions costs.
Africa’s vision is set out in Agenda 2063 and it Calls to Action the creation of an African passport and an end to visa requirements for all African citizens in the continent by 2018. Time is running out to meet that pledge. At the November 2015 EU-Africa Valletta Summit, African leaders committed to supporting migration initiatives across the continent to bring back hope.
It is hoped that the African free movement will make the region more open, prosperous and truly connected.