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Visa openness improves between African countries

Intra-Africa air connectivity up but headwinds remain

Recently updated on March 12th, 2024 at 02:37 pm

Africa is making strides in its visa openness policies which the African Development Bank (AfDB) says bodes well for cross-border travel, ease of movement and trade in 2024 and beyond.

The Africa Visa Openness Index 2023, published this week by the AfDB, reveals much progress since the seventh edition of the report was published in December 2022.

The visa openness index achieved its highest score ever in 2023, surpassing levels last seen before the COVID-19 pandemic. The Africa Visa Openness Index (AVOI) measures the extent to which African countries are open to visitors from other African countries.

In 2023, data from the report shows that 50 countries improved or maintained their 2022 score, with only four countries scoring lower. Since the first report was published in 2016, 36 countries have improved their index scores. Forty-two countries extended visa-free entry to citizens from at least five other African countries, while 33 countries did so for citizens of at least 10 countries.

Four countries, up from three last year, have eliminated all visa requirements for African travellers. They are Rwanda, Benin, The Gambia, and Seychelles.

Earlier this month, Kenya made the move towards being visa-free but implemented its Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) system which still costs money and many believe remains a barrier to free movement.

All key overall matrices have shown improvements in 2023. 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 fulfilment of aspirations for a prosperous, integrated continent where people can develop their potential unhampered by overly restrictive visa regimes,” noted Jean-Guy Afrika, Acting Director of the African Development Bank’s Regional Integration Coordination Office.

Recommendations and solutions

The AfDB report highlights that, despite the many improvements, there are still hurdles to overcome.

In nearly half of country-to-country travel scenarios (46%), Africans are required to obtain visas ahead of departure to travel to other African countries. Visa restrictions are notably pronounced in northern and central Africa.

The AfDB report emphasises that sustaining the momentum on visa liberalisation is crucial for realising the vision of the ‘Africa We Want.’ Embracing liberal visa policies will facilitate seamless travel and contribute significantly to enhanced trade in goods and services, cross-border investment and shared prosperity.

Some of the recommendations of the report include:

  • Implementing 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,
  • 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.
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