Rwanda Ranks Among the Top 10 Most Visa-Open Countries in Africa

· @laureneveritt ·

Rwanda tied with Mauritius as the ninth most visa-open country on the continent for African travelers in the first Africa Visa Openness Index. The report, prepared by the African Development Bank, ranks African countries by the openness and restrictiveness of their visa policies for visitors from other African countries.

The Seychelles claimed the No. 1 spot and is the only country on the list that offers visa-free access for all Africans. It was followed by Mali, Uganda, Cape Verde, Togo, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, and Mozambique. Of the top 10 countries, only Mauritius requires some African citizens to obtain a visa before departure.

But the top 10 countries are the exception rather than the rule. Currently, most African travelers cannot move freely between countries without applying for a visa and paying hefty fees. The report found that North Americans have “easier travel access to the continent than Africans themselves”.

An African citizen needs a visa to travel to 80% of other African countries, and only a quarter of African countries offer visas on arrival. The other 55% require travelers to obtain their visas before departure.

Visa openness is a high priority for the African Union (AU). The AU’s Agenda 2063 calls for a “continent with seamless borders” where “the free movement of people, capital, goods, and services will result in significant increases in trade and investments among African countries.” The plan also advocates for a single African passport and the elimination of visa restrictions between African countries.

Currently, free movement between countries is not a reality for many Africans. The report found that North Americans have “easier travel access to the continent than Africans themselves”.

Advocates for visa openness say it will boost tourism, trade, and investment. Free movement between countries also helps fill skills gaps and gives young people access to new jobs and educational opportunities, writes AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma in the report’s foreword.

Rwanda has eased visa restrictions in recent years as part of its push to become a top MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) destination. In 2013, Rwanda’s Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration announced a visa-on-arrival for all Africans. The immigration office also halved the visa fee from US$60 to US$30.

The country is already reaping the benefits of the policy changes, according to Francis Gatare, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB): “As a result of the government of Rwanda establishing a visa-on-arrival policy, we have witnessed that African travelers coming to Rwanda have increased by [an] average 22% annually. We are seeing increasingly more African travelers participating not just in tourism, but in business and also seeking employment in our country. So the interest that we had in bridging the gap for trade, employment, and business is being realized.”

The country also boosted regional trade by abolishing work permits for East African Community citizens and partnered with Kenya and Uganda to allow citizens of the three countries to travel freely between them with their national identity card. As a result of the measures, cross-border trade increased by 50%, according to RDB.

Rwanda’s impressive results will no doubt serve as an important example of visa openness during the 26th AU Summit, which will be hosted in Kigali in July. For the first time, the AU Commission will issue African passports to all attending heads of states with instructions to carry the documents to the summit. AU member states also agreed to issue a 30-day visa on arrival to all African passport holders. Officials hope the move will promote the adoption of a single continent-wide passport and freedom of movement between African countries.

The Top 20 Most Open African Countries. ChartAfrica Visa Openness Report 2016.

The Top 20 Most Visa-Open Countries in Africa. Chart Credit: Africa Visa Openness Report 2016.

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