Uganda has dropped to eighth spot on the Africa Visa Openness Index this year according to the latest rankings published on Dec.13 by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the African Union Commission.
Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | The Africa Visa Openness Index which has been published since 2016 measures the extent to which African countries are open to visitors from other African countries. It also analyses each country’s visa requirements to show which countries on the continent facilitate travel to their countries.
For each country, the index calculates the number of African countries whose citizens must obtain a visa before travelling there, the number of countries whose citizens may obtain a visa upon arrival, and the number of countries whose citizens do not need a visa to enter. The index also tracks changes in the countries’ scores over time and then analyses how policies earmarked for freedom of movement across the continent are evolving.
Uganda requires no visa for citizens of 18 African countries visiting while citizens of 34 other African states can get a visa on arrival. Last year, Uganda was ranked seventh on the continent just behind Seychelles, Benin, The Gambia, Senegal, Ghana and Rwanda. This year, however, Nigeria upstaged Uganda.
Overall, Africa is almost evenly split between countries with a liberal visa policy and those that partially restrict entry from other African states. A quarter of African countries welcome some or all African visitors visa-free; another quarter, roughly, permit some or all African visitors to obtain a visa on arrival.
This year’s index found that the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic substantially impacted free movement of people around the continent as governments temporarily reversed their liberal visa regime partly in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet, despite the COVID-19 crisis forcing many African countries to introduce measures to curtail travel, 36 countries have improved or maintained their Visa Openness Index score since 2016 when the visa openness rankings were introduced by the AfDB. The report mentions Namibia, Morocco, and Tunisia as countries that have made the most progress in visa openness.
Still, high visa fees and cumbersome application processes remain a major bottleneck for travellers in Africa, especially the business people. For instance, the average visa fee for Africans travelling on the continent is US$63. The visa fees depend on the length of stay and they can range anywhere between US$12-250 while the average processing time for issuing a visa can range anywhere between 1-10 days.
Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, the Deputy Chairperson at the AU Commission noted that the Africa Visa Openness Index report has revealed a real danger of Africa losing the gains in liberal visa policies that the continent has realized over the years.
“A lot more can be done to reduce bureaucracy, address the security implications for the free movement of people agenda, and simplify the visa process so that Africans have a smoother travel experience,” she said.
Experts at both the AfDB and the Africa Union Commission say in order for Africa to recover and rebuild, it is important that the governments combine efforts not only to expand access to vaccines but also ease movement of people on the continent.
“Making vaccines more accessible and easing the movement of people are essential to kick-start trade and investments in tourism, travel-related industries, and other equally crucial sectors, such as agriculture, energy and manufacturing,” said Dr. Khaled Sherif, the Vice President Regional Development, Integration and Business Delivery.
“By supporting the free movement of people, we make it easier for Africans to do business in Africa. Free movement of people, especially workers, could help plug skills gaps, while enabling countries to fix skills mismatches in their labour markets,” said Jean-Guy Afrika, the Officer-In-Charge of the Regional Integration Coordination Office at the African Development Bank.
“We need the visa regime to be able to help people move around. We also need the right customs regime and the right border automation control and so on, to support the movement of people, goods and services for the development, growth and sustainability of the African economy as we begin to recover from the pandemic,” said Adefunke Adeyemi, the Africa Regional Director, at the International Air Transport Association (IATA).