It costs a Ghanaian between $250 - $400 to obtain a visa to Congo (DRC). Remember, this is minus the service fee if you use an agent. Isn't that crazy?!
Unfortunately, this is not an exception but the norm across many African countries. Africa is one of the regions with the highest visa requirements in the world. The Pan-Africanism envisioned by our founding fathers like Nkrumah, Nyerere and Sankara remain a dream.
According to the Visa Openness Report 2021, 51% of African countries require African visitors to get a visa before arrival. So on average, an African needs approximately 28 visas to travel across Africa.
You know we have a big problem when the big man, Aliko Dangote, still has a VISA problem in Africa despite having an African Union passport.
What is a visa?
It is a temporary permit issued to you by a foreign country allowing entry into their borders.
NB: This should not be confused with a passport (issued by your country of origin).
The story of visas is not new. It can be traced back to as far as 445BC in the book of Nehemiah in the bible. Nehemiah was given letters by the king granting safe passage to the kingdom of Judah.
Passports, technically visas, became a requirement for international travel right after the First World War. After the war, countries were still suspicious of each other, and they needed to know the identity of everyone crossing their border.
In 1947, the Internation Civil Aviation Organisation(ICAO) got the mandate to set passport standards, a task they do to date.
The sorry state of affairs
As an African, you don't need a passport full of African visas! It is that simple. Seriously why would I need 28 or even more visas to travel across Africa? It is our motherland, for crying out loud! We didn't even draw these borders.
Take the case of South Africa. Citizens from 40 African countries require a visa, yet holders of 28 different European passports can enter the country visa-free. Why would you close off your borders to fellow Africans and pretend to show love and welcome the rest of the world? 'Ubuntu' indeed!
Countries like Egypt, Sudan, Guinea and South Sudan still require visas for all African countries.
The African Union is talking about agenda 2063 visa-free Africa. Why 2063? We need this solved now.
The time wasted preparing the required documents, going back and forth to the embassies, and waiting for days for processing makes the experience awful. Most of the time, these documents are not even necessary. To apply for a Chad visa, you need an invitation letter, which is extremely hard to obtain.
The visa fees are also abnormally high. A multiple entry Schengen visas allowing entry into most European countries, and a single entry Togo visa costs almost the same. Intra-African trade and tourism are majorly affected as a result.
The corruption element makes the bad situation worse. You get to some borders, and the immigration officers still demand 'something small' or face deportation.
Let us cool off with some soothing West African kora music from the queen, Sona Jobarteh.
Debunking the myths
Some critics argue that having a visa-free Africa will lead to job loss, a decline in trade and insecurity. Let's interrogate these arguments to see if they hold any water.
(a) Job loss
The immediate impact of visa openness is an influx in the number of people entering your borders. Does this mean these people come to take your jobs? Research has proven that most of these people are tourists. With this comes new employment opportunities in industries such as transport, hospitality, construction, agriculture e.t.c
Take the case of Seychelles and Mauritius. Before 2013, Mauritius required visitors to apply for a visa, while Seychelles allowed visa-free entry. As a result, between 2009 and 2014, the number of tourists to Seychelles grew by 7 per cent per annum. That of Mauritius remained nearly stagnant.
(b) Decline in Trade
When Rwanda abolished work permits for East Africans, their trade with DRC alone increased by 73% and at least 50% with Kenya and Uganda.
Increased skilled labour, exchange of ideas and innovation and high investment opportunities are a direct product of visa openness.
While this might be true, no concrete evidence supporting it exists. The laws and regulations determine the security of a country. Anyone who breaks the rules should face the consequences.
Plus, terrorists and bandits always find ways into a country without necessarily using the stipulated entry points.
But all is not lost. I am optimistic that these problems are solvable.
What can we do?
✅ Offer e-visas to simplify the application process.
✅ Offer visa on arrival to fellow Africans.
✅ Countries should offer long-dated visas.
✅ Adopt one Africa visa/passport.
✅ Reciprocity. If Benin offers Djibouti citizens visas on arrival, then Djibouti should do the same. In fact, this should also apply to countries outside Africa. A Nigerian has to pay $160 and wait until 2024 to get a slot for a USA visa interview, which is not even guaranteed. It only makes sense for them to make a USA citizen wait until 2028 to get the results of their visa application.
✅ Strengthen the African Union. A strong AU and embracing togetherness means Africa can bargain as a block instead of as individual countries. It will help to prevent discrimination and exploitation. The less developed countries can also get support and improve their economies in the long run. With improved economies comes jobs and a reduction in insecurity. Ultimately, we can kill this monster called visa.
The issues affecting Africa are dependent on the kind of leaders we elect.
Would you rather keep an ekuke or a chihuahua?
📌 "We're going to get rich together or drown together" - Fatou Diomé
📌 The Story of a Passport Full of African Visas.- Thabo Ncalo
📌 Big monsters take time to die - Maisha Kazini
Do you have a story you would want to share? Submit a story for us to share in the future newsletter.
PROVERB OF THE WEEK
Kalya Uzumanana (Tonga)
Translation: He who keeps on trying gets the reward.
Meaning: It is better to make little progress, ultimately achieving the goal rather than doing nothing.
Special thanks to Stephanie for editing this issue.
Remember, it is time to tell our own stories.