Relaxing Visa Regulations: An imperative to push Africa’s integration agenda and unlock the continent’s economic potential
by Moono Mupotola
As world leaders gather in Kigali to attend the World Economic Forum for Africa, the free movement of people across the continent, a top priority in the vision for Africa set in Agenda 2063, will undoubtedly be at the heart of discussions.
The call to action, by African leaders, urging the creation of an African passport and an end to visa requirements for all African citizens by 2018, is a clear indication of the resolve to move the regional integration agenda forward.
Indeed, the recent release of the first edition of the Africa Visa Openness Index is just one compelling example of how we translate African leaders’ vision into concrete actions. The Index is yet another step in the right direction. The way forward has never been clearer.
The report’s primary objective is to drive a continental visa policy reform program that will in turn simplify visa application procedures, encourage positive reciprocity between African countries and promote talent mobility.
The report findings show that Africans still need visas to travel to over half of the continent. Fortunately, a number of countries, including Mauritius and Rwanda, who are in the top 10 most visa-open countries, are leading the way in making the concept of “One Africa” possible.
The Visa Openness Index, which sets out to examine migration policies and visa entry regimes, clearly indicates that Africa is still closed off to African travellers. On average, Africans need visas to travel to 55% of other African countries, can have visas on arrival in only 25%, and don’t need a visa to travel to only 20% of African countries.
These restrictions harm our integration efforts by negatively affecting tourism, investments and trade. A more relaxed African visa policy landscape could help push our shared vision of one competitive African market.
For most of us, and especially African entrepreneurs, youths and businessmen, not travelling is simply unthinkable. If we want to encourage intra-African trade, then without a doubt, we need to work on visa openness.
Why is it important to monitor the levels of openness/restrictiveness of Africa’s visa policy regime? Let’s just imagine a continent with seamless borders, a continent of endless opportunities and possibilities, a continent where all Africans travel across borders with ease.
Now is the time for Africa to abolish visa requirements and, in so doing, facilitate movement of people and intra-regional trade and investments.
It is time to renew our commitment to build one large integrated market in order to boost competitiveness and intra-African trade as envisaged in Agenda 2063.
The theme chosen for the 26th edition of the WEF – Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation –is a confirmation that information and communications technology (ICT) should be at the centre of our continent’s development. This can be achieved by transforming the actual ITC opportunities into realities. Better ICT infrastructure means enhanced flow of communication and production, which in turn translates into better access to markets and greater socioeconomic development.
The future of Africa is bright. Africa today is seen as the new economic frontier, an emerging destination of choice for many investors looking for high-growth markets. In 2014, the continent’s GDP grew at 3.9%, higher than the rest of the world 3.3%. To sustain this growth, ensure effective wealth distribution across the continent and eliminate the damaging effect of migration on the youth, Africa has to be integrated. Africa needs to take advantage of these emerging conditions that will substantially boost trade, spark growth and create jobs. This is what the Bank’s new vision aims to implement through the 'High 5s', a roadmap on how to accelerate the delivery and developmental impact of the Bank’s Ten Year Strategy.
The implementation of the “Integrate Africa” agenda is critical in the realisation of other High 5 priorities – Light up and power Africa, Feed Africa, Industrialise Africa, Improve the quality of life for the people of Africa – in order to unleash the continent’s potential as an integrated and more competitive market.
African leaders now recognize more than ever the urgency of accelerating Africa’s integration. My hope is that one day Africans can move freely and live in a more open, prosperous and truly connected continent.
We can make it happen.
Moono Mupotola is the Director of the NEPAD, Regional Integration and Trade Department at the African Development Bank.
This article was first published May 12, 2016 in The New Times of Rwanda. See link: http://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/article/2016-05-12/199799/