2021 Visa Openness Index: Report Calls for Easier Travel to Propel Africa out of COVID-19 Slump

ADDIS ABABA – Opening up Africa’s borders to travel will drive investment and an economic rebound, according to the authors of the 2021 Africa Visa Openness Index.

Published yearly since 2016, the Index measures African countries’ openness to travellers from elsewhere on the continent. This year’s edition found that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic substantially impacted free movement.

“In this new era of travel, safety and hygiene protocols have become as important as travel documentation and visa formalities,” said the report, jointly released by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the African Union Commission (AUC) on Monday.

‘Key for intra-African trade’

The Index shows that 36 countries have improved or maintained their Visa Openness Index score since 2016.

Over 80% of the countries that have made gains in openness are low-income or lower-middle-income countries, says the report that mentioned Namibia, Morocco, and Tunisia as countries that have made the most progress in visa openness.

“The evidence is clear: the countries that make it simpler for Africa’s business people, tourists, students, and workers to visit their territories, are the countries that stand to attract more investment and talent. They are the countries whose economies will recover quickly,” said Khaled Sherif, AfDB’s Vice-President for Regional Development, Integration and Business Delivery.

The Index aligns with the AU’s Protocol on the Free Movement of People and, in particular, advances the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, with a market of 1.3 billion people.

“The COVID-19 crisis has made one thing very certain: Africa needs to be more self-sufficient,” said Monique Nsanzabaganwa, Deputy Chairperson of AUC. “To get there, we need to boost intra-African trade, and that means fewer visa restrictions”.

The 2021 Visa Openness Index also makes a compelling case for streamlining the visa process for young Africans.

“All young people need is the freedom to move around the continent and support as they develop into Africa’s entrepreneurs and business leaders,” it stated.

Overall, the tndex shows Africa is almost evenly split between countries with a liberal visa policy and those that partially restrict entry from other African states.

A quarter of African countries welcome some or all African visitors visa-free; another quarter, roughly, permit some or all African visitors to obtain a visa on arrival. Twenty-four countries offer electronic visas, up from 15 five years ago, the index added.