Africans need the freedom to travel in their own continent. Here’s why

The benefits of lifting travel restrictions for Africans in Africa are clear Image: Benny Jackson on Unsplash

Hassan El-Houry
Group CEO, National Aviation Services
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Africans make up more than 12% of the world’s population but less than 3% of the world’s passengers.

One of the primary reasons for this is intra-region visa restrictions. According to the Africa Visa Openness Index, on an average, Africans need visas to enter 55% of states within the continent.

The African Union (AU) has attempted to address this issue of free movement within the region for the last 30 years and also introduced a common African passport in 2016, with a goal to distribute them to all citizens by 2020.

While the number of countries becoming more liberal has increased, a Visa Free Africa still seems like a dream for the continent’s entrepreneurs, doctors, aid workers, college professors and reuniting families.

Why do we need a #VisaFreeAfrica?

Imagine living in Portugal and needing a visa to travel on vacation or for business to Spain or Germany. Travelling within the region for Africans equates to visa formalities that are time consuming, cumbersome and expensive.

A number of visas are valid only for a month, making repeat visits difficult. It is actually easier for many non-Africans to travel to a number of African countries. For example, Canadians and citizens of the United States can procure visas on arrival in 35% of African countries and travel visa-free to 20% of African countries.

According to the World Bank, intra-African trade is more expensive than trade in any other region. According to the report, one African supermarket chain spends $20,000 every week to get import permits for just one country.

The benefits of lifting restrictions

The advantages of increased mobility are many. This has been demonstrated not only by the Schengen agreement and the Gulf Cooperation Council, but also by African countries that have eased visa restrictions.

The Schengen visa, combined with good air, rail and road connectivity has made Europe the biggest destination for tourists in the world. In 2014, almost 1.7 people living in Europe worked in another Schengen country, and about 3.5 million people crossed internal Schengen-area borders each day. Around 24 million business trips and 57 million cross-border goods movements were also recorded in the Schengen area that year.

Bilateral net trade between members of the Schengen area increased by 0.09% every year.

The Gulf Cooperation Council continues to remain a glowing example of what a unified region can achieve.

In Africa, Seychelles, one of the few completely visa-free countries. After adopting the policy, Seychelles saw an average 7% increase per year in international tourism into the country between 2009 and 2014. When Rwanda abolished work permits for East African citizens, the country’s trade with Kenya and Uganda increased by at least 50%.

Africa integration – a work in progress

Fifteen African countries including, Seychelles, Mali, Uganda, Cape Verde, Togo, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Mozambique, Mauritius, Rwanda, Burundi, Comoros, Madagascar, Somalia and Benin offer liberal access to all African citizens.

Rwanda, a strong supporter of Visa Free Africa, allows African citizens a visa on arrival and saw a 24% increase in tourism arrivals and a 50% increase in intra-African trade. Trade with the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone increased by 73% since the implementation of the policy.

Across the globe, tourism supports 10% of the world’s employment. Visa openness underpins the continent’s tourism sector, and can create many more skilled jobs. The AfDB’s Africa Tourism Monitoring Report also outlines that a visa liberalization scheme could increase tourism by 5-25%. Increased tourism will give rise to new businesses opportunities in transport, hotels, shopping malls and restaurants. For the 60% African youth that is currently unemployed, this means a new job market, which also prevents local brain drain in the long run.

New start-ups can drive technological advancements while a mingling of talented minds will promote innovation. A retained talent pool and general ease of doing business will make Africa more attractive to foreign investors. Removal of visa restrictions will also lead to more cross-country medical and educational travel.

While a Visa Free Africa may pose some security concerns, no empirical evidence exists to support this. The pros definitely outweigh the cons with increased tourism, job creation and overall economic growth.

Leaders like President Paul Kagame and organizations such as the African Development Bank have extended their full support. As a private company doing business in Africa, NAS is doing its part by exclusively partnering with the Kigali Shapers to support #VisaFreeAfrica, a global campaign to facilitate mobility in Africa.

At the end of the day, it is an established fact that it is crucial for Africans to be able to move freely within their continent and a #VisaFreeAfrica should be achieved sooner rather than later.

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