Rwanda has announced that it will allow all Africans to travel visa-free to the country, becoming the latest nation on the continent to announce such a measure aimed at boosting free movement of people and trade to rival Europe’s Schengen zone.
President Paul Kagame made the announcement in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, where he pitched the potential of Africa as “a unified tourism destination” for a continent that still relies on 60% of its tourists from outside Africa, according to data from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
“Any African, can get on a plane to Rwanda whenever they wish and they will not pay a thing to enter our country” said Kagame during the 23rd Global Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council.
“We should not lose sight of our own continental market,” he said. “Africans are the future of global tourism as our middle class continues to grow at a fast pace in the decades to come.”
Once implemented, Rwanda will become the fourth African country to remove travel restrictions for Africans. Other countries that have waived visas to African nationals are Gambia, Benin and Seychelles.
Kenya’s President William Ruto announced Monday plans to allow all Africans to travel to the East African nation visa-free by December 31.
“Visa restrictions amongst ourselves is working against us. When people cannot travel, business people cannot travel, entrepreneurs cannot travel we all become net losers” said Ruto at an international summit in Congo Brazzaville.
Ghana provides visa free access to West Africa countries and a few other countries on the continent. Ghana recently announced a visa-free travel regime with South Africa. But that is for only 90 days in a year; and the traveller would have to convince immigration officers at the entry point before they can gain access into the country.
Ethiopia, which prides itself as one of the continent’s major tourism destinations, with arguably the biggest airline on the continent, is even making it difficult for Africans to get visas. Apart from tourist visa, which cost $52, all other visas, like Journalist Visa, Conference Visa and others, cost over $100. Additionally, the applicant would need to request for a reference code from the Ethiopian Immigration at home and wait for that code to be emailed to him or her, before one can put in a visa application online.
The African Union in 2016 launched an African passport with much fanfare, saying it would rival the European Union model in “unleashing the potential of the continent.” However, only diplomats and AU officials have been issued the travel document so far.
The African Passport and free movement of people is “aimed at removing restrictions on Africans ability to travel, work and live within their own continent,” The AU says on its website.
AU also launched the African Continental Free Trade Area, a continent-wide free trade area estimated to be worth $3.4 trillion, which aims to create a single unified market for the continent’s 1.3 billion people and to boost economic development.