Rwanda joins three other African countries that allow visa-free entry for all African nationals. This development shows the, albeit slow, gradual advancement of the African Union’s vision of free movement on the continent.
On 02 November 2023, Rwanda announced that it would allow all African nationals visa-free entry into the country. This announcement follows a similar one by Kenya, signalling a positive trend towards increased regional integration and cooperation.
The announcement to allow visa-free travel into Rwanda by African nationals was made by Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, during the 23rd Global Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council in Kigali. He said, ‘Any African, can get on a plane to Rwanda whenever they wish, and they will not pay a thing to enter our country.’
According to Africa’s Visa Openness Index, most countries are making progress towards simplifying entry processes and dropping restrictions to some other nations. The index measures the openness of African countries to visitors from other African countries. Many African countries also offer visa-free travel to at least five other countries, with more travel freedom within regional blocs.
In October 2023, Kenya had made a similar policy announcement. President Williams Ruto confirmed that there would be visa-free entry for Nigerians and all Africans by the end of year. He asserted this at a climate change conference in Congo Brazzaville. He said, ‘Let me say this: As Kenya, by the end of this year, no African will be required to have a visa to come to Kenya.’ Adding that ‘Our children from this continent should not be locked in borders in Europe and also be locked in borders in Africa.’
If Kenya’s plan is actualized in time, both countries will join the scarce number of African nations that allow visa-free entry for African nationals. Those currently on the list include Seychelles, Gambia, and Benin Republic.
THE AU’S VISION
The African Union (AU) has since envisioned a free Africa where there is free trade and free movement of people to build cooperation and help build the economies of the continent. AfCFTA was introduced to create a single market for goods and services, producing the largest free trade area in the world.
The African passport was also introduced in 2016 to remove restrictions for Africans to travel for work and leisure across the continent. It was developed to rival Europe’s Schengen Zone visa policy. The Schengen Area, comprising 27 European countries, allows for free movement without internal borders, contributing to greater cooperation and integration. This approach prompts cross-border business and improved tourism among member states. Unfortunately, the African Passport has not yet been made available to the public and those in possession of it are only diplomats and AU officials.
Despite the aspirations for Africa to also allow such seamless travel for member states of the AU, many African countries, such as South Africa, have maintained restrictive visa policies, limiting the potential for collaboration, and hindering the continent’s ability to fully capitalize on its economic and cultural diversity.
Rwanda and Kenya’s decisions to permit visa-free entry for all African nationals are practical steps towards realizing the AU’s goals. The ease of travel for Africans within the continent can facilitate increased business opportunities, cultural exchanges, and tourism. It also branches past economic considerations and fosters a sense of pan-Africanism.
These initiatives are especially noteworthy considering the historically strict visa requirements in many African countries, which have hindered the free movement of people and limited potential economic and social benefits.
The free movement and trade goals of the AU, although are seen to be taking strides, still move at a very slow rate. Rwanda and Kenya’s policy changes offer an avenue for boosting the trend among other African nations and fostering a more interconnected and cooperative Africa. As the two announcements have been made, the hopeful anticipation is that it will inspire a domino effect on the trend in the continent with more countries introducing this policy. It will help encourage essential developments and consider similar measures to unlock the full potential of regional cooperation⎈
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