12 June 2017

Note: This article first appeared on the Rwanda Eye

You are about to set off on a trip to another African country. Suitcases are packed, accommodation is reserved, tickets have been booked, and passport is in hand. Everything has been taken care of and you can get on your way. But can you?

Do you have a visa to enter the country to which you are travelling? Have you been to the Embassy, filled out the forms, paid the fee and waited for processing? Have you had to think twice about the trip because of the time, cost and process involved or by now have you decided to go somewhere else?

Rwanda is among the first 10 top performing African country on visa openness, according to the second edition of the Africa Visa Openness Index.

The case stories of Mauritius, an island state, and Rwanda, a landlocked country, showcase how the freer movement of people is leading to economic dividends.

According to 2016 the second edition of the Africa Visa Openness Index undertaken by the African Development Bank (AfDB),the two countries have adopted open visa policies and smart travel solutions for visitors from other African countries in an effort to promote tourism, attract investment and boost the competitiveness of their economies.

The index 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.

The report indicates that both countries have seen an increase in African business and leisure travelers which has in turn generated an economic impact that is still growing.

To support its open visa policy at the regional level Rwanda abolished work permits for East African Community citizens. This has led to over 12,000 people getting work permits free of charge.

Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda also allow travel between their countries with national identity cards, which has increased cross-border trade by 50%.

The three countries launched a single tourist visa, which led to a 17% increase in arrivals to Rwanda in one year.

Within the framework of Rwanda’s National Migration Policy, the country’s systems include a visa-on-arrival policy for all Africans and an efficient visa procedure. The visa fee was halved from USD 60 to USD 30.38 Electronic visas are available through a virtual office policy.

The report revealed that Rwanda processes over 90,000 eVisas a year for 95% of visitors; only 5% of visitors go to an Embassy.

Alongside the country’s relaxation of visa requirements for visitors, Rwandans can get a passport in 3 days, down from 30 days.

The Automated Passenger Clearance System at Kigali Airport clears all Rwandans, who make up 30% of travellers, and frees up space for visitors

The Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration has won awards for service delivery using ICT and in promoting client satisfaction, now monitored through customer surveys.

“You have got borders and airports in most of the countries now. We have biometrics, we take fingerprints, they take your photos, and we have a lot of data. We will be able to manage the perceived and actual real fears created by movement of people.”  Anaclet Kalibata, Director General of Immigration and Emigration mentioned in the report.

As a result of the government of Rwanda establishing a visa-on-arrival policy have increased by average 22% annually.

The Africa Visa Openness Index reported that 75% of countries in the top 20 most visa-open countries are in West Africa or East Africa. In the top 20 most visa-open countries, only one is in North Africa and none are in Central Africa.

The index showed that Africans don’t need a visa to travel to 20% of other African countries. Africans can get visas on arrival in 25% of other African countries.

Recent findings highlight that over half of all trips taken worldwide were for tourism and that most tourists visit destinations within their region.

Other global trends show that the tourism industry is a key driver of jobs and tends to employ more women and young people, whilst also creating new opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises.

The report calls on Africa leaders to capitalise on these trends by facilitating tourism from neighbouring countries and across the continent. In that way, Africa can support growth and development based on inclusive, shared prosperity that can economically empower the continent’s growing young population and dynamic small businesses and bring opportunities to women in the workforce.

Importantly, according to the Index, already seven out of the top 10 most tourism-ready economies in Sub-Saharan Africa feature in the top 20 most visa-open countries in Africa.

At the same time, arrivals to Africa’s destinations are projected to grow by 4.4% by 2034 rising from 119 million passengers in 2014 to 280 million people flying to, from and within the continent.26 Opening up the skies across Africa needs to be matched by more visa-open policies on arrival on the ground.