Thinking of traversing Africa in search of trade and investment opportunities? You may need to consider what parts of the continent to focus on in terms of flexibility in travel and how visa-open the destination country is.
According to the Africa Visa Openness Report 2016 published by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the most visa-open countries are found in West Africa and East Africa. A massive 75 percent of countries in the top 20 most visa-open countries are in West Africa or East Africa.
Surprisingly, only one in North Africa and none in Central Africa are in the top 20 most visa-open countries—underlining the challenges the continent faces in boosting its trade and investment profile.
East Africa has the bulk (45 percent) of the top most visa-open countries including Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda.
West Africa has the second largest cluster (30 percent) of the top most visa open countries including Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Togo, according to the index.
The Southern African bloc is ranked third in terms of visa openness in four countries that include Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique and Zambia.
Seamless borders are no doubt a boon to trade and investment world over because of free movement labor, goods and capital.
The fruits of an open visa policy have been supported by the formal adoption of the European Union (EU) Schengen Agreement in 1995 that abolished the EU’s internal borders, enabling passport-free movement across most of the bloc.
The deal helped the Schengen countries to ramp up trade and investment among themselves thanks to an open visa policy. According to the Economist, every year people make 1.3 billion crossings of the EU’s internal borders along with 57 million trucks carrying €2.8 trillion ($3.7 trillion) of goods.
“Yet Africa largely remains closed, with Africans still needing visas to travel to over half of the continent. These headlines go against the continent’s goal to truly become ‘one Africa.’ And still we know that it is the free movement of people, together with the free movement of goods, services and capital, which is the lifeblood that will sustain Africa’s integration,” Akinwumi Adesina, President African Development Bank Group says.
At the November 2015 EU-Africa Vallet Summit, African leaders committed to support migration initiatives across the continent to help spur trade and investment within the continent.
“The vision for Africa set out in Agenda 2063 and its call to action urge the creation of an African passport and an end to visa requirements for all African citizens in Africa by 2018. Time is running out to meet that pledge,” Dr Adesina said following the launch of the Visa Openness Report.
Several African countries have made major strides in adopting the open visa policy through a number of smart solutions that have yielded huge returns.
For example as a result of opening up their borders, countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius and Rwanda have seen a big impact on tourism, investment and financial services.
As part of its growth agenda by 2063, the African Union (AU) set a goal to be continent with seamless borders” where “the free movement of people, capital, goods and services will result in significant increases in trade and investments amongst African countries rising to unprecedented levels, and strengthen Africa’s place in global trade.”
“Greater visa openness is a vital part of the solution in getting Africa to reach that vision. There is a strong business case for visa openness in Africa, which in turn promotes the free movement of people and is at the foundation of deeper and closer integration of the continent,” AfDB said.
“There are huge potential gains to be had for countries and regions across Africa in having more visa-open policies for other Africans. That holds true whether it is to help plug skills gaps in the labour market, promote entrepreneurship, diversify the economy, add value to services, or whether it is to attract investment and boost competitiveness” it added.
The open visa policy is expected to have more relevance ahead of the planned merger of three African economic blocs into a new 27-nation free-trade zone.
A deal signed by Heads of States in Cairo in June 2015 targets to combine the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the East African Community (EAC).
This will create a free trade union capturing more than 60 per cent of the continent’s economic activity and investors will easily reach a market of 625 million consumers from South Africa to Egypt. The tripartite FTA popularly known as the grand Free Trade Area will be the largest economic bloc on the continent and the launching pad for the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) in 2017, Comesa said in a statement in 2015.
Although African economies are growing fast, second only to Asia, the continent has attracted criticism over its slow pace of integration.