Visa-free travel for Africans: why Kenya and Rwanda have taken a step in the right direction

by MMC
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President William Ruto of Kenya recently announcement that Kenya’s borders would be open to visitors from across Africa, visa-free, by the end of 2023.

He said: “When people can’t travel, business people can’t travel, entrepreneurs can’t travel, we all become net losers. »

A few days later, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda followed suitclaiming that all Africans could enter Rwanda without a visa.

Neither Kenya nor Rwanda will be first. By the end of 2022, Benin, Gambia and Seychelles had already put in place a visa-free access system for all Africans. Perhaps others will follow soon. Some regions, sub-regional groups and bilateral agreements have also resulted in visa-free access, or even passport-free access in some cases.

Within the broader East African Community, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya allow cross-border travel without a passport. Botswana and Namibia have recently sign a similar agreement.

Despite this progress, by the end of 2022 only 27 percent African routes allowed Africans to travel without a visa.

Actions such as those by Kenya and Rwanda advance the African Union agenda. Regulating the free movement of people across African borders is one of the continent’s great development challenges. It is one of the flagship projects of the African Union. Agenda 2063.

But even if all African countries no longer required visas for Africans, this would not necessarily give visitors the right to apply for a job, start a business or build a house in the host country. The 2018 African Union Free Movement of Persons Protocol goals for total free movement, through three phases – entry, residence and establishment. This includes full economic rights, including employment. It was not widely ratified, however.

Our new study on migration trends highlights the potential contributions of migration to economic development in countries of origin and destination. This is achieved through the transfer of skills, knowledge and remittances. The study also shows that intra-African migration is firmly rooted in geographic, social and economic linkages. Travel occurs mainly within regions, and moderately between them.

Free trade and movement of people

African Union policies support greater freedom of intracontinental trade, investment and movement of people to promote the economic, social and political development of the continent. The continent has progress made on those aspects of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement that deal with trade and investment. There has not been much progress in terms of the free movement of people. And yet, the success of the trade agreement requires freer movement of people.

The conference noted that most African countries had not ratified the African Union agreement. Free Movement of Persons Protocol. At the same time, improvements have been noted in policies and practices at the national, bilateral and multilateral levels that facilitate the free movement of Africans.

Besides the recent announcements from Rwanda and Kenya, other examples could be a growing number of reciprocal arrangements between countries.

Regional migration, a norm

The history of the African state, characterized by strong social ties beyond national borders, makes regional mobility a norm rather than an exception. This is reflected in migration routes, which are mostly within the same regions and go in both directions.

For example, Burkina Faso to Côte d’Ivoire constitutes the largest migratory route on the continent and within the West African Economic Community (ECOWAS) – the economic bloc of 15 West African states. Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso are equally popular. This trend is omnipresent across the continent, except within the Southern African Development Community region, where most migration routes generally lead to South Africa.

Among the large regional economic communities, ECOWAS experiences the most intense regional migration. It is followed by the Southern African Development Community and the East African Community. On the other hand, ECOWAS experiences the lowest rate of interregional migration, while the East African Community experiences the most.

Variations in development across Africa mean that some countries experience contrasting patterns, particularly when it comes to extracontinental migration. While most African migrants migrate to and from other parts of the continent, in middle-income countries like South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, extracontinental emigration is greater.

Immigration and emigration are generally low in low-income countries and higher in middle-income countries. In rich countries, people tend not to emigrate. The relatively low level of migration in Africa follows this pattern.

Only 14 percent of total global emigrants come from Africa. The average migrant density, or percentage of migrants living on the continent, is 1.89 percent compared to a global average of 3.6 percent where Europe and North America are at 12 percent and 16 percent respectively. African migration is therefore not only relatively low compared to global averages, but it also reflects low incomes.

High-income countries tend to have more immigrants than emigrants. The opposite is true for low-income areas. Africa as a whole has more emigrants than immigrants, confirming the link between migration and development.

Legal restrictions don’t matter

Much migration in Africa escapes legal restrictions or national border definitions, and even logistical constraints. Government dictates succeed in making much of this migration irregular, but fail to stop it. Although regional integration and liberalization of migration rules are useful, they do not yet resolve this challenge.

The main country of origin for migrants to Kenya is Somalia, although it is not part of the same regional economic community. And despite the efforts of the Kenyan government to dissuade Somali migrants from coming to Kenya. The main destination country for Nigerian emigrants in Africa is Cameroon, even though it does not belong to ECOWAS.

While reforms in migration governance in Africa considerable progress it will still take time before they catch up and are able to deal fairly and rationally with the reality of migration patterns in Africa.

Michael Mutava of the New South Institute is the author of the report on which this article is based.

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