With Nigeria on board, the idea of Africans travelling freely across all national borders in Africa may become reality sooner. All African visitors to Nigeria will receive visas on arrival starting January 2020. No applying in advance. According to the BBC on Thursday, President Muhammadu Buhari said the move demonstrates Nigeria’s commitment to “free movement of Africans within Africa.”
This common sense idea is surprisingly taking decades to hold. Only in 2013 did AU countries agree to remove visa restrictions for every African. The deadline was 2018. What does the report card look like a year after the deadline?
According to the Africa Visa Openness Index 2019, “Africans do not need a visa to travel to 25% of other African countries (also 25% in 2018, and up from 22% in 2017 and 20% in 2016).
“Africans can get visas on arrival in 26% of other African countries (up from 24% in 2018 and 2017 and 25% in 2016). “Africans need visas to travel to 49% of other African countries (down from 51% in 2018 and 54% in 2017, and 55% in 2016).”
The index, an African Development Bank project, “measures how open African countries are when it comes to visas by looking at what they ask of citizens from other countries in Africa when they travel.”
Uganda has always scored well, and is now number six out of 54 countries. Nigeria ranks number 30. Seychelles, Benin, Senegal, Rwanda, Ghana are tops. South Sudan, Eritrea, Sudan, Libya, Equatorial Guinea are bottom.
In the report, the bank says that providing “liberal access for African citizens makes more than good business sense. The free movement of business people, investors and travellers correlates strongly with levels of investment, growth in the travel and tourism industry, and economic development by providing more jobs and securing livelihoods.”
To underline the point, a bank vice president says in the foreword: “The 2019 top performers on visa openness rank among the top countries for foreign direct investment in Africa, and benefit from strong levels of growth, including in the tourism sector.”
If the benefits are so obvious, you wonder why the delay. The BBC has an idea. Many “African states are affected by political and economic rivalries — or the fear that their countries would attract many migrants who would take jobs from locals.”
The said President Buhari in August closed all Nigeria’s land borders, messed up cross-border trade, and sat back. Never mind that Ecowas citizens are allowed to enter Nigeria visa-free. According to the news report, Mr Buhari has “rejected pressure to lift the blockade, saying it was aimed at ending the smuggling of goods into Nigeria and to make the nation self-sufficient, especially in the production of food.”
And I have not even added that after more than a year of pussyfooting, Nigeria finally signed the African Continental Free Trade Area only in July. Eritrea now is the only country yet to sign, and little wonder that it is the fourth worst performing country on the visa index rankings.
Nigeria is not the only country closing borders in brazenly crazy ways. Rwanda beat Africa’s economic and population giant to the madness, having shuttered its border with Uganda at the end of February. I suppose this is what President Paul Kagame means when he speaks of imposing a heavy cost on anyone messing with his reign.
Oh, and South Africa, reeling from sporadic xenophobic attacks, will be launching a Border Management Authority next year to keep away undocumented migrants.
Another story that attracted my attention on Thursday was about 11 million people being at risk of hunger in southern Africa due to a prolonged drought.
The countries in the crosshairs are Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The BBC quoted the International Federation of the Red Cross as saying that “people were going two or three days without food, entire herds of livestock were being wiped out, and farmers were being left with no means to earn income.”
A report by Reuters said: “In… Zambia and Zimbabwe, plunging water levels at the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi have resulted in power cuts.”
Interestingly, neighbouring South Africa is experiencing flooding and heavy rain has forced the introduction of load-shedding.” We in Uganda are taking our own beating, with mudslides rolled in.
“South Africa is the latest African state to be hit by floods,” the BBC reported early in the week. “Almost 300 people have died and 2.8 million people have been affected by recent floods in East and central Africa, according to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.”
With stuff like this, it is a given that Africa must co-operate with itself very closely.
Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.