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Africa needs to open up to its people, not only trade, By Olufemi Ogunjobi

Africa needs to open up to its people, not only trade, By Olufemi Ogunjobi

…for a continent projected to double its current growth rate by 2050, only with the free movement of people will there be the needed boost in intra-Africa trade, commerce and tourism; labour mobility, intra-Africa knowledge and skills transfer, social integration and tourism; improved trans-border infrastructure and shared development.

The unfortunate story of my friend, Pamela Adie who was turned back at the borders of Mozambique a few days ago isn’t new, but it reinforces the horrible and ridiculous travel situations for many Africans within the continent.

Adie, an activist, who leads a pro-LGBT group, The Equality Hub, in Nigeria, in a series of tweets, said she was turned back at the Southern African country for not having a visa. For every research she did before her travel, and truly, as confirmed by the Visa Index 2022, only Visa on Arrivals is available for Nigerians into Mozambique.

The immigration officers insisted that even though the Visa on Arrival policy is valid – and having provided all necessary documents requested; hotel reservation, employer’s letter, return ticket – she still needs to provide a letter of invitation, which has to come from the Mozambican embassy in her country. Like some sort of criminal, she was escorted back to the plane, and returned to Nigeria, forfeiting the purpose of her business trip to the country.

Intra-African travel is complicated and fraught with suspicion. To travel in Africa, According to the Visa Openness Index Report 2021, 51 per cent of African countries require citizens of other African countries to obtain visas before setting out. 25 per cent of African countries welcome some or all African visitors, visa-free. 24 per cent of African countries allow some or all African visitors to obtain a visa on arrival. Only Seychelles, Benin and The Gambia offer visa-free access to all Africans.

Right now, African countries need to strategically position themselves to make the AfCTA work, and one of such ways to achieve this is by relaxing their visa restrictions for easy entry and exit among Africans. Like the European Union, we need to craft out a working model that will ensure great success in connecting people and economies…

Interestingly, as a matter of fact, citizens of only 15 African nations can travel to South Africa without a visa, yet holders of 28 different European passports can enter the country freely.

And to add: it is also expensive to fly within the continent – thanks to the heavy taxes of governments, protectionist policies, poor connectivity and infrastructure, which, sadly, continue to stifle the growth of the aviation industry on the continent. On average, passenger’s fees and charges are twice as much on the continent than in Europe or the Middle East.

While the African Union (AU) has developed ambitious plans for the continental free trade area, the free movement of its people across colonial borders lags behind. Undoubtedly, “trade is a force for good”, as the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, Okonjo-Iweala, rightly mentioned, but the continent needs to review its travel policies that continue to shut the door against its own people from interacting among themselves.

Right now, African countries need to strategically position themselves to make the AfCTA work, and one of such ways to achieve this is by relaxing their visa restrictions for easy entry and exit among Africans. Like the European Union, we need to craft out a working model that will ensure great success in connecting people and economies, to which border closure and harsh visa restrictions serve as disservice.

Pamela’s story is one of too many sad experiences that Africans have been exposed to in commuting across their continent. Her thread is full of testimonials brimming with bile and the harrowing experiences of people in the hands of government officials at borders across many African countries. We need to do better. 

If the continent is concerned about building a prosperous future for its citizens, it needs to set aside its differences, and ensure people have the joy and ability to travel, work and live within their own continent, otherwise we will keep losing bright young minds (who sometimes undertake precarious trips) to Europe in search of better lives.

And especially, for a continent projected to double its current growth rate by 2050, only with the free movement of people will there be the needed boost in intra-Africa trade, commerce and tourism; labour mobility, intra-Africa knowledge and skills transfer, social integration and tourism; improved trans-border infrastructure and shared development.

Pamela’s story is one of too many sad experiences that Africans have been exposed to in commuting across their continent. Her thread is full of testimonials brimming with bile and the harrowing experiences of people in the hands of government officials at borders across many African countries. We need to do better. 

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