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Visa-free Africa, 53-year-old dream yet to be realized

Visa-free Africa, 53-year-old dream yet to be realized

African Union

As we commemorate Africa Day, let’s rededicate ourselves to Africa and to the ideals bequeathed to us by our founding mothers and fathers – Dr. Dlamini Zuma, AU Commission Chairperson.

Dr. Zuma made the call reiterating the need to facilitate the integration process for a prosperous continent in series of tweets.

Every year on May 25, calls intensify for Africa to unite. 53 years after the formation of the union, it is a dream than reality. Is “One Africa” still possible?

We are privileged to have the African Union passport. Now with the passport we are able to get into most African countries and get visas on arrival and for that matter, we don't pay.

“We are not strengthening the basis for integration. We are paying lip service to these integration than to these free movement of goods and services. And again if they remove all the visas and people travel and they cannot do anything because of lack of infrastructure, then what are we talking about,” said Dr. Vladimir Antwi Danso, a Pan-Africanist and Senior Research Fellow at Ghana’s Legon Center for International Affairs and Diplomacy.

African Passport

Presidents and heads of governments of AU member states are expected to be given African passports during the summit in July, a move seen as another milestone to free movement.

The restrictions on movement of persons and services across the continent with over one billion population is still very much restricted.

“Bob Marley and the Wailers sang Africa Unite, and more than 30 years after his death ,we are still singing Africa unite, our leaders are not serious, why should we still be talking about one Africa, this day and age,” said Simon Tonye.

For the citizens breaking down the borders, there will be meaning to the much talked about “One Africa, One Destiny” like the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of persons.

“If I have to go through so much stress before I get a visa, first of all you are not selling your country and it also does not help us to sell ourselves as Africans. It brings down our passion to also get our businesses out there and brings down creativity,” said Guru, a Ghanaian Hiplife music artist.

Traveling across the continent has been described by many as unpleasant. First getting a visa for a journey sometimes next door, may not be cheap and if you are not lucky, the country you intend to visit has no embassy or consulate in your country of residence. It even gets worse if there is no provision for an e-visa and so you have to travel to another country which is not your final destination for a visa.

“It’s really frustrating many countries do not even understand to try to remove those barriers to free movement of goods and persons because if we really want integration then the most important thing is to get the people of Africa really united especially of persons, then goods will follow. Integration is predicated first and foremost then trade”,said Dr. Antwi Danso

Africa Visa Openness Index

The first ever Africa Visa Openness Index recently published by the African Development Bank, ranked countries on the openness of their visa regimes.

The report indicates;

  • Africans do not need visa to travel to 20 percent of countries on the continent
  • 25 percent give visa on arrival
  • 55 percent require visas before entry

The president of the African Development Bank Group, Akinwumi Adesina, said it was a simple decision that African countries must make and the benefits are enormous.

“Having an open visa policy does not require large resources or complex systems. Countries can apply positive reciprocity but also open up unilaterally. And it can be done through a number of smart solutions. As a result of opening up, countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius and Rwanda have seen a big impact on tourism, investment and financial service,” Adesina said in the foreword of the report.

The AU in its call for action urged the abolishing of all visa requirement for Africans travelling to other African countries by 2018, with each citizen issued an African passport as part of the 50-year ambitious Agenda 2063.

“Staff of African Union Commission in which I am one were privileged to have the African Union passport. Now with the passport we are able to get into most African countries and get visas on arrival and for that matter, we don’t pay. Now that is all that the commission wants to extend to the rest of the citizens,” said Jacob Enoh Eben, AU Chairperson’s spokesperson.

But there is a challenge even with the current AU passport holders, “you don’t have access to all the countries, you have to obtain visa for some countries”.

“Now the Chairperson of the AU Commission has actually written to member states reminding them that if becomes difficult for us AU passport holders to get access to those countries then it will be difficult to have AU businesses in those countries,” Eben said.

“My guess is that it may get to a point where if you as a member state do not uphold or ratify the protocol and do not implement it, you will be ostracizing yourself,” he added.

There are already countries with bilateral agreements for no visa requirements or visa on arrival for their citizens and thats what the African Union Commission is looking forward to.

“The rate currently is very low but the ambition is that we should be able to move freely,” said Eben

In some countries in Africa, May 25 is a holiday and there are debates whether it’s worth celebrating.

“Well May 25 if you don’t have anything at all you can remember your birthday, and so we have something to celebrate, we were born on May 25, and I believe it is the same funfair but at least it gives us the hope that there’s something called the African Union,” said Dr. Antwi Danso,