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NEWS INDEPTH: Kenya, Rwanda lift E.A. to top spot in free travel



East Africa tops in free movement of people in Africa, a new survey showed, affirming the gains of an open visa scheme for the region aimed at spurring trade and tourism.

The 2018 Visa Openness Index by the African Union and the African Development Bank (AfDB) indicated that eight of the top 20 most visa-open countries are found in East Africa —the highest concentration among all regions.

The visa-open East Africa countries include; Comoros, Djibouti, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Uganda and Tanzania.

East Africa is followed by West Africa that has seven countries in the top 20 most visa-open countries—including Benin, Cabo Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Togo.

Southern Africa has only four countries in the top 20 most visa-open countries while North Africa has only one country falling within this category.

The AU is pushing for the adoption of a seamless travel in Africa to help improve trade and tourism in the continent. The AU in 2016 launched a continental passport as part of a strategy to encourage open borders.

“Removing obstacles for Africans to visit, explore and invest in the continent fits into this context.More countries are putting in place visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to catalyse tourism and attract investment, alongside measures to improve their business environment,” the AU and AfDB said in a joint report.

In furtherance to this, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and Single African Air Transport Market were launched in 2018 and progress has been made on the Free Movement of Persons Protocol.

The continental free trade area was signed by close to 50 countries at the AU Summit in March last year, alongside the Kigali Declaration and the Free Movement Protocol.

It creates one African market of 1.2 billion people, with a GDP of $2.5 trillion, which has the potential to boost intra-African trade by 52 per cent by 2020, benefitting African producers, consumers and traders.

The top 20 improvers, based on progress made on visa openness score between 2016-2018, cover Southern Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa and North Africa. The top improvers all have policies allowing Africans greater visa free or visa-on-arrival access.

Kenya moved six places up on visa openness progress in 2018 helped by government’s recent move to allow citizens from African States to obtain visa on arrival, the AU-AfDB report said.

The report indicates that nationals from 18 African countries do not require visa to enter Kenya, 33 require visa on arrival while only two countries need to obtain visa before arrival.

In East Africa, Rwanda was position three, having moved from number nine last year, coming behind Seychelles and Benin.

Rwanda: Rwanda moved up in the top 10 countries in the Index. It scored position three this year up from number nine in 2017.

Africans enjoy liberal access to Rwanda, with no visa required for 15 countries and visa on arrival for 38 countries. A top 10 performer on the Index since 2016, the country’s open visa policy has inspired countries Africa-wide, including Benin, and soon Ethiopia to liberalise their visa regimes.

Kenya: The country moved into the top 10 countries in the Index. The country’s improved score follows its new visa-on-arrival policy for all Africans, which was highlighted in President Kenyatta’s inauguration speech in November, 2017.

The liberalised visa regime was set up to promote more open borders across the continent and to boost trade, security and Africa-wide integration. It has been widely publicised, with the African Union Commission voicing the need for countries to follow Kenya’s example.

The move supports Kenya’s efforts to drive growth in travel by providing a straightforward process for short-term visas, offering eVisas for travellers. Total travel and tourism contributed 9.7 per cent to Kenya’s GDP in 2017 and is forecast to rise by 5.5 per cent in 2018, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council Economic Impact 2018 report.

Kenya’s open visa policy will, in turn, support the country’s strong air transport sector. The sector facilitates over $10 billion in exports, around $4.4 billion in foreign direct investment, and around $800,000 in inbound leisure and business tourism for Kenya.

At the same time, Kenya is driving integration within the East African Community, with the announcement that citizens from Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda can move freely with their identity cards, work, do business and own property on an equal basis.

Kenyan nationals can travel to 18 African countries visa-free and to 15 African countries with a visa on arrival, which represents one of the highest mobility rates on the continent.