Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD)


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.