The African Development Bank just launched the Africa Visa Openness Report 2016, and it highlights a huge problem: as Africans, we cannot move easily between our countries.
On average, Africans need visas to travel to 55% of other African countries and can only get visas on arrival in 25% of other countries. This means they can only travel to 20% of the countries without a visa. Even though countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius, Rwanda, Ghana and Kenya have tried to reduce visa restrictions, other countries are not reciprocating.
What is really appalling is that it is easier for Europeans or Americans to travel within Africa than for many Africans themselves. In 2015, holders of a United States of America passport, for example, could travel to 172 countries and territories visa-free or with visa on arrival, including at least 20 African countries.
Ultimately, the visa restrictions mean that African countries are losing out.
One of the benefits of free movement of people that visa restrictions inhibit is increased tourism. Tourism contributes to one in every 11 jobs and 9% of gross domestic product worldwide. With high youth unemployment, improved tourism could create thousands of jobs and help reduce inequality. More visitors mean more hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, and a growth in transport and entertainment sectors. The impact could be felt in both urban areas and rural areas.
This is not just about non-Africans visiting our continent. As the new generation of middle class is ushered into Africa, spending on holidays and shopping is increasing, but African countries may not fully benefit. Many of my friends opt to travel to Europe for holidays and shopping as opposed to other African countries. They cite as major reasons the ease of travelling in the Schengen area, which allows a visitor access to 26 countries within Europe, with one visa. Combined with the cost-effective and easy interconnectivity through rail, air and road transport, it is no surprise that Europe receives the highest number of tourists globally.
According to the paper Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk? open borders could lead to a one-time boost in world gross domestic product by about 50-150%. Hence, African countries should strive to make the dreams of the founders of the then Organization of African unity (OAU) true by allowing Africans to move easily and encourage intra Africa trade and investments.
Easier movement could also help the unemployment rates. I have often found European or Chinese ‘expatriates’ doing jobs that could be done by highly skilled Africans, some of whom lack opportunities in their home countries, if only they could more easily move between countries for work. Movement of people can also be a driver of technological change and a fresh source of entrepreneurs. Much innovation comes from the work of teams of people who have different perspectives and experiences. This can also make countries within Africa to be more attractive to foreign direct investment.
Political executive editor of the Telegraph James Kirkup recently argued too that “Simply, all the border checks in the world will not keep us safe. Passport controls can’t stop the spread of ideas, and it is ideas, not people, that are the essence of the terrorism that has just killed so many in Paris and Beirut and Baghdad.”
The article was first published in Quartz Africa