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Rwanda ranked best on Africa Visa Openness Index 2023


The East African country is fourth African country to offer visa-free access for all African visitors

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | Rwanda has become the latest African country to offer visa-free access to all African citizens according to the latest edition of the Africa Visa Openness Index jointly published on Dec.12 by the African Union and the African Development Bank Group.

A visa is an endorsement–through a certificate or stamp in a travel document–showing that a particular visitor is allowed to enter a country for a specific length of time and for specific activities.

The Africa Visa Openness Index (AVOI) measures the extent to which African countries are open to visitors from other African countries. The Index analyzes each country’s visa requirements to show which countries on the continent most facilitate travel to their territory.

For each country, the Index calculates the number of African countries whose citizens must obtain a visa before travelling there, the number of countries whose citizens may obtain a visa upon arrival, and the number of countries whose citizens can enter visa-free. Each country is then assigned a visa openness score and ranked accordingly.

Based on these criteria, Rwanda alongside Benin, The Gambia, and Seychelles obtained a perfect score and emerged as a new champion in 2023, following a progressively more liberal visa regime pursued over the past eight years, noted the report.

For Benin, The Gambia and Seychelles, this was the second consecutive year they got a perfect score but Rwanda took special praise, thanks to the country’s progressive visa policies over the years.

In 2016, the year in which the Africa Visa Openness Index was launched, Rwanda allowed citizens of nearly 90% of African countries to obtain a visa on arrival; with citizens of the remaining 10% of the countries being able to enter the country without a visa.

By 2018, Rwanda had slightly increased the number of African states whose citizens visa-free entry was permitted. And in March 2020, Rwanda announced that it would waive visa-on-arrival fees for citizens of all African Union member states visiting for 30 days or less. In 2023, Rwanda liberalized further by extending visa-free access to the citizens of all African Union member states.

“This has eased the burden of travel for the citizens of 35 African countries that had until recently still required a visa on arrival,” the report notes.

Positive visa policies

According to the report, Africa is making strides in its visa openness policies which bodes well for cross border travel, ease of movement and trade in 2024 and beyond. In fact, on the same day the Africa Visa Openness Index was being launched, President William Ruto of Kenya said visitors from across the world to the East African country would no longer require a visa starting from January, next year.

Kenya announces visa freedom

“It shall no longer be necessary for any person from any corner of the globe to carry the burden of applying for a visa to come to Kenya,” Ruto said on Dec.12 during the occasion to mark Kenya’s 60th Independence anniversary.

Ruto said the Kenyan government has initiated a digital platform that will ensure all visitors receive an electronic travel authorization in advance instead of applying for one. Earlier in October, this year, President Ruto had waived the visa requirement for all African citizens intending to visit Kenya by the end of this year.

According to the report, this year’s Index reveals much progress since the seventh edition of the report was published in December, last year. For example, the continent now features four champions (Rwanda, Benin, The Gambia and Seychelles) –the countries that have abolished visas for citizens from all African countries.

Meanwhile 24 countries now offer an e-visa, almost three times as many as in 2016. An additional 15 countries improved their score this year; 35 maintained their scores, while only four scored lower. The report commends countries in West Africa for continuing to lead the rankings as seven of the continent’s top 10 performers are from that region.

“As we delve into the eighth edition of the AVOI and assess progress made since 2016, we take pride in the complete removal of travel restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the surpassing of pre-pandemic levels in visa openness,” said Marie-Laure Akin-Olugbade, the Vice-President for Regional Development, Integration and Business Delivery at the African Development Bank.

“Freer movement of people could help galvanize the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), bringing us closer to the realization of our shared goal of an integrated Africa where goods, services, capital, and people move freely,” Akin-Olugbade added.

Since the first report was published in 2016, 36 countries have improved their score on the index. In 2023, forty-two countries extended visa-free entry to citizens from at least 5 other African countries, while 33 countries did so to citizens of at least 10 countries.

In 28% of all intra-Africa travel scenarios, African citizens do not require a visa (an improvement from 27% in 2022 and 20% in 2016). However, a visa is still required in 46% of travel scenarios on the continent – down from 47% in 2022 and 55% in 2016.

“It makes it easier for Africans to visit their families, pursue education and business interests abroad, and discover Africa as tourists. It also contributes towards the fulfillment of aspirations for a prosperous, integrated continent where people can develop their potential unhampered by overly restrictive visa regimes,” noted Jean-Guy Afrika, the Acting Director of the African Development Bank’s Regional Integration Coordination Office.

ECOWAS’ high score

The report also measures average visa openness within the AU-recognised Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and finds that average visa openness has improved in six of the eight RECs over the past year. This is important because RECs continue to be important drivers of visa openness through regional initiatives aimed at dismantling barriers to the movement of people.

In this respect, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) scores highest on the regional score and is where African citizens enjoy the highest levels of freedom to move across borders.

The report noted that ECOWAS has taken a progressive stance on visa openness for decades, formalizing it in 1979 with a protocol on the free movement of persons, residence and establishment.

In addition to boasting the highest average regional AVOI score on the continent, ECOWAS also records the highest visa-free reciprocity rate: the rate at which the visa-free policies of individual countries within the REC are reciprocated by its member states. In 97% of travel scenarios, citizens can enter another country within the same REC without the need for a visa.

Recommendations

However, despite the many improvements, there are still hurdles to overcome. In nearly half of country-to-country travel scenarios (46%), Africans are still required to obtain visas ahead of departure to travel to other African countries.

Visa restrictions are notably pronounced in northern and central Africa, the report notes. Sustaining the momentum on visa liberalization is crucial for realizing the vision of the ‘Africa We Want.’

Going forward, the report recommends the implementation of any outstanding commitments on visa-free movement within regional economic communities, extending visa-free travel policies to all AU member states, in increments if necessary; streamlining and simplifying any remaining visa procedures and associated cross-border processes, and implementing and expanding e-visa systems that use secure, reliable, mobile-friendly platforms with a guaranteed response time, for countries requiring a visa ahead of travel.

One key area for which further progress on visa openness is crucial, is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). “Freeing the movement of people across Africa’s borders is not only an important objective in its own right, but is also essential to continental integration,” the report notes.

With three more African Union member states ratifying the AfCFTA in 2023, bringing the total to 47 ratifications, the lasting impact of the negotiations, ratification, and execution of the AfCFTA depends to a significant extent on people’s ability to cross African borders, unhindered by excessive administrative barriers.

“Trade is not done in a vacuum. It’s people that trade. Apart from the fact that you need connectivity, you also need freedom for people to move from place to the other,” Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the President of the Africa Development Bank Group, is quoted in the report.

“The flourishing of trade in goods is intricately linked to the liberalization of trade in services, both of which hinge on the smooth movement of people across Africa’s borders without excessive bureaucratic hurdles,” said Ambassador Minata Samate Cessouma, the Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development at the African Union Commission.

“Trade in goods cannot thrive without liberalizing trade in services; both of which rely on people moving across Africa’s borders unencumbered by excessive bureaucracy.

“Cooperation on intra-African labour migration and human mobility is inextricably interwoven with continental integration and is an inherent catalyst to the successful implementation of the AfCFTA. Extending the pilot project to trade in services will send an important signal that Africa is open for business.”

“We have never been closer to realizing AfCFTA’s potential to integrate the continent. The African Union is proud of countries’ progress on freeing the movement of people.”

First published in 2016, the Africa Visa Openness Index tracks changes in countries’ scores over time and it does the same for the eight regional communities recognized by the African Union.

The report analyzes these trends in light of developments in Africa and the world. Data for this year’s edition was collected in July and August 2023. The main source of information was the International Air Transport Association (IATA).



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