Africa’s quest to achieve greater economic integration and foster unity, recorded significant progress in the out-going year 2023, as more countries adopted visa openness policies to ease cross border travel, boost trade, investment and regional integration.
The African Development Bank (AfDB), in a report posted on its website tagged “The African Visa Openess Index 2023”, revealed much progress as countries continue to ease visa restrictions higher than what obtained in the seventh edition of the report published in December 2022.
The report shows that visa openness achieves its highest score ever in 2023, surpassing levels last seen prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. The period between 2020 and 2021, the massive border closures to curb the spread of Covid-19, affected land and air travel, with additional restrictions, bans on gatherings, quarantines and such, causing stagnation in 2022.
The 2023 report however, shows that about fifty countries improved or maintained their 2022 score, with 4 countries scoring lower. From 2016, when the first report was published, thirty-six countries have improved their score on the index. Forty-two countries extend visa-free to citizens from at least five other Africa countries, thirty-three countries do so to citizens of at least ten countries. Up from the last three years, four countries, namely; Rwanda, Benin, The Gambia and Seychelles have eliminated all visa requirements for Africa travellers.
All key overall matrices have shown improvements in 2023.In 28% of all intra-African travel, African citizens do not require visa (improvement from 27% in 2022 and 20% in 2016). Visa is still required in forty-six percent of travel on the continent-down from forty-seven percent in 2022 and 55% in 2016.
Other highlights of the Africa Visa Openess Index 2023 include: 24 countries now offer an e-visa, almost three times as many as in 2016.15 countries improved their score in 2023,35 maintained their scores, while four scored lower. West Africa countries continue to lead the rankings. Of the top ten performers in the continent, seven are from West Africa.
The report also measures average visa openness within the African Union, AU-recognized Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and finds that visa openness has improved in six out of eight RECs over the past year.
One key area for which further progress on visa openness is crucial according to the report, is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), “Freeing the movement of people across Africa’s borders is not only an important objective in its own right but is also essential to continental integration.”
Some top officials of AFDB bared their minds on the progress so far, Jean-Guy Afrika, Acting Director of the African Development Bank’s Regional Integration Coordination Office said “It makes it easier for Africans to visit their families, pursue education and business interests abroad, and discover Africa as tourists. It also contributes towards the fulfillment of aspirations for a prosperous, integrated continent where people can develop their potential unhampered by overly restrictive visa regimes”
In her view, the Vice-President for Regional Development, Integration and Business Delivery at AFDB, Marie-Laure Akin-Olugbade posited “Freer movement of people could help galvanize the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), bringing us closer to the realization of our shared goal of an integrated Africa where goods, services, capital and people move freely.”
The Africa Visa Openness Index measures the extent to which African countries are open to travellers from other Africa countries. Published yearly since 2016, AVOI tracks changes in countries’ scores over time to show how national policies evolve on the freedom of movement across Africa.