Community of Sahel-Saharan States


Member States: Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia

Visa openness

CEN-SAD ranks joint second on visa openness in 2023, alongside SADC; its score rose slightly since last year, even as SADC’s declined. As the REC with the largest number of member states, many of which are also members of ECOWAS, CEN-SAD boasts somewhat high average visa openness. Seven of the AVOI’s 10 top performers are members of CEN-SAD, and another three members of CEN-SAD are among this year’s top 20. Two members of CEN-SAD—Benin and The Gambia—are among the continent’s four most open countries, all of which offer visa-free travel to the citizens of all African states. 

In contrast, six CEN-SAD countries—Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan—decline to offer visa-free travel even to the citizens of fellow CEN-SAD members. Some do, however, maintain broad visa-on-arrival policies.  

Regional reciprocity

In terms of visa-free reciprocity (countries’ mutual offering of visa-free entry), CEN-SAD’s performance lies in the bottom half of the continent’s RECs: in only 32% of all possible travel permutations among CEN-SAD member states, are the citizens of two CEN-SAD countries exempt from presenting a visa in order to enter each other’s territory. No CEN-SAD member state has altered its policy on visa-free entry over the last year, and only a few states have shifted from requiring a visa before travel to offering a visa on arrival.
As a result, in almost half of permutations, the citizens from CEN-SAD countries need to obtain a visa before travelling to each other’s territory. These restrictions persist even though the free movement of persons, goods, and services is a core objective of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States Revised Treaty (Article 3, “Objectives of the Community”).

The fact that some CEN-SAD member states apply a more restrictive visa policy to the citizens of other CEN-SAD member states than they do to the citizens of countries outside CEN-SAD, may be explained by their membership in more than one REC. Some RECs’ policies on regional mobility are more liberal than CEN-SAD’s, or have been implemented more widely. 

Another explanation for the discrepancy might be national protectionism. As noted earlier in this report, the visa policies of low-income and lower-middle-income countries tend to be more liberal than the visa policies of higher-income countries, some of which use strict visa regimes to curb inward migration.

In CEN-SAD as in many other RECs, contrasting countries’ AVOI ranking to their REC’s reciprocity score reveals that a high ranking on the AVOI does not necessarily indicate more visa-free reciprocity within the region. For example, Benin and The Gambia both obtain a perfect score on the AVOI, but visa-free reciprocity in CEN-SAD is a low 32%. Furthermore, the visa-free travel privileges offered by Benin and The Gambia are only reciprocated by 13 of their 23 fellow CEN-SAD member states. 

Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and Senegal do not rank as highly on the AVOI as Benin and The Gambia, but their visa-free policies are the most reciprocated in CEN-SAD.