CAPE TOWN - African travellers now require a visa to access just over half of the continent’s countries.
This is according to the African Visa Openness Index (AVOI) report which measures the extent to which African countries are open to visitors from other African countries, produced jointly by the African Development Bank (Bank) and the African Union Commission (AUC) since 2016.
The latest findings show for the first time since the AVOI was published, openness levels dropped slightly in 2021, after some governments temporarily reversed their liberal visa regime partly in reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic and largely to respond to recent instability in their countries.
To calculate each country’s score, the AVOI assesses the country’s visa policy and classifies each policy in one of three categories. The AVOI gives each category a weighting: Visa required before travel equals 0, while visa on arrival equals 0.8 and no visa required equals 1.0.
South Africa ranked 30, with a score of 0.321.
“The continent is almost evenly split between countries with a liberal visa policy and countries whose visa policy is more restrictive: 25% of African countries welcome some or all African visitors, visa-free, 24% of African countries allow some or all African visitors to obtain a visa on arrival and 51% of African countries require African visitors to obtain a visa before they arrive,” the report found.
Three African countries – Benin, The Gambia, and Seychelles – offer visa-free access to all Africans (3 countries in 2020, 2 in 2019 and 2018, 1 in 2017 and 2016). One African country – Comoros – offers a visa on arrival to all Africans (2 countries in 2020, 3 in 2019, 4 in 2018 and 2017, and 3 in 2016). Five African countries – Senegal, Rwanda, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania – offer either visa-free access or a visa on arrival to all Africans.
Meanwhile, 17 of the 2021 top 20 countries are low-income or lower-middle income countries and 5 of 7 of Africa’s upper-middle income countries have a low visa openness score.
Highlighting the importance of freedom of movement across Africa, deputy chairperson of the AU Commission Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa said last year that the largest free trade area in the world began operations, covering all but one African country.
“Its increase in intra-African trade is expected to produce huge economic and social gains for the continent. If implemented fully and in an inclusive manner, the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement will extend a critical lifeline to African small businesses and will boost the livelihoods of African women and young people. Yet this sixth edition of the Africa Visa Openness Report reveals a real danger of Africa losing the gains in liberal visa policies that the continent has realised over the years.”
She said a lot more needed to be done.
“In 2021, Africans can only travel to one-quarter of the continent visa-free, and fewer countries issue visas on arrival than before. Many travellers also report excessive fees and delays in obtaining a visa. A lot more can be done to reduce bureaucracy, address the security implications for the free movement of persons agenda, and simplify the visa process so that Africans have a smoother travel experience.”