Kenyans are now demanded to have pre-travel visas when heading to Somalia, while 52 other African countries can obtain visas on arrival. The Africa Openness Index of 2022, which gauges the accessibility of African countries to their fellow citizens, brings to light the disparities in travel facilitation within the continent.
According to the index, Kenya occupies position 31 in terms of accessibility. It requires visas from citizens of 34 African states while allowing citizens from only 19 countries to enter without a visa.
This peculiar contrast becomes more apparent in the context of Somalia. Currently, Kenyans are the only African nationals mandated to obtain a visa prior to their journey.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), a flagship agreement aimed at promoting economic integration across the continent, came into force in 2019. However, its potential has been hindered by the challenge of people’s movement, with little progress in trade activities due to existing visa restrictions.
Remarkably, 46 out of 55 African countries ratified the AfCFTA agreement. The agreement envisions a continent with more open borders for trade and commerce.
Regrettably, only four countries; Mali, Niger, Rwanda, and Sao Tome and Principe, have ratified the AU Free Movement of Protocol. An essential step towards actualizing the free movement of people.
The hesitancy to ratify this protocol is often attributed to concerns about potential erosion of national sovereignty. This is as noted by Kenyan trade expert, Josiah Rotich.
Stanley Magesa, a researcher at the Africa Union’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), highlighted the varying levels of accessibility for citizens from different African countries. This was during an open forum with Africa’s news editors in Nairobi.
Uganda, for instance, is relatively more accessible, allowing citizens from 20 countries to enter without a visa. However, it requirs visas from citizens of 33 AU member states.
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This disparity challenges the need for a more unified approach to visa policies within the African continent. Such unity fosters a spirit of openness and collaboration, vital for the success of initiatives like AfCFTA.