Ethiopia will soon introduce visa-free travel for all Africans

Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

UN Photo/Cia Pak Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, addresses the general debate of the seventy-second session of the General Assembly

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Alex Gray, Formative Content

Ethiopia plans to open its borders so that all Africans can arrive without prior permission.

Speaking at a state banquet held in honour of visiting Rwandan leader, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed revealed that Ethiopia would “very soon” follow Rwanda’s example.

From 1 January this year, nationals of all countries received a visa on arrival at Kigali International Airport and all land borders.

The visa problem

Image: Visa Openness Index

Fewer visa restrictions will lead to greater intra-African tourism which then boosts the economy of the host country.

“For countries who have either visa-free or visa-on-arrival policies you can see the positive impact on the number of visitors to those countries. Over time, you’ll also see it in the trade figures,” explains Acha Leke, a Director at McKinsey & Company and member of the WEF Global Agenda Council on Africa.

Ease of entry

According to the Visa Openness Index, it’s still easier for Americans to travel around Africa than it is for Africans themselves.

Africans still need visas to travel to 55% of other African countries, although visa openness levels have improved from 2015 levels on average.

Africans can get visas on arrival in just 25% of other countries and don’t need a visa at all to travel to just 20% of other countries on the continent.

West African and East African states are leading the index, making up 75% of the top 20 most open countries. Only one North African country made the top 20 while none did from Central Africa.

A way to resolve conflict?

The increased opening of Africa’s borders encourages the free movement of people. This in turn helps to promote integration, boost economic and tourism growth, and help to resolve conflict.

Having seamless borders is a key part of the African Union 2063 Agenda, whose aim is to build “a united and integrated Africa, with peaceful, open and prosperous borders”.

The Union recently held the inaugural African Border Day, which helps draw attention to the prevention and resolution of border‐related disputes as well as to the promotion of regional and continental integration.

Tourism ambitions

Tourism will also benefit from less visa restrictions, and is an important factor for economic growth on the continent, contributing to 8.5% of GDP. Its growth is increasingly driven by Africans themselves.

But further growth is hampered by poor connectivity of air transport, visa restrictions, currency convertibility and a lack of recognition in some countries of the value of African tourism.

At a recent gathering, tourism ministers called for an easing of restrictions to help boost the tourism trade.

In Rwanda, the abolition of visa requirements for fellow members of the East African Community in 2011 helped increase intraregional tourist numbers from 283,000 in 2010, to 478,000 in 2013.

“Africa still grapples with intra-continental movement issues, which hamper tourism growth. Our governments should liberalize tourism policies through regional cooperation on easing visa restrictions and implementing open sky policies, if we are to move a step ahead globally in terms of tourism prosperity,” said Tokozile Xasa, South Africa’s Minister of Tourism.

The easing of visa restrictions in both Ethiopia and Rwanda could be a first step in promoting greater tourism, and may well encourage other countries to follow suit.

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