WANTED: Free Movement In Africa For Africans!
Though African borders are artificial creations of European colonisers, and the Europeans who created the African borders have themselves, on paper, “removed” their borders, making it easier for their citizens to move freely on the European continent, the Africans have stuck so rigidly to the artificial borders that 56 years after African independence, it is easier for non-Africans to move more freely in Africa than Africans themselves.
It is a difficult conundrum that borders on self-hatred by the African. As it stands, everybody else can move more freely in Africa than the African. It doesn’t make sense but that is the reality. As more African voices are rising for a change, as African leaders meet at their mid-year Summit in Rwanda in July, a Zimbabwean pan-Africanist is starting a signature petition campaign next month to force the issue.
Our Contributing Editor Baffour Ankomah reports.
It is 6.30 pm, January 30, 2016. Kingsley Antwi, a Ghanaian with dual British nationality arrives at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, en route to South Sudan. He has to pass the night in Addis to catch his connecting flight the next morning. He goes to the visa-on-arrival counter at the airport. There is a winding queue, of mostly people of European stock, waiting for their visas. Antwi joins them. He gets his turn 30 minutes later.
He puts his Ghanaian passport in front of the woman behind the glass screen. She looks at the passport and says, “no, you can’t get visa-on arrival”. Antwi asks why? “Because you don’t qualify,” the woman says deadpan. “You should have obtained your visa in Accra before you travelled,” she adds. Stunned, Antwi stammers: “But, but … these Europeans qualify?” The woman says yes. “How,” Antwi asks. “Because they qualify,” the woman’s voice is rising.
Blood is shooting up Antwi’s head. “So why don’t I, an African, qualify?”, he asks the woman who is becoming even more exasperated. “Because you don’t qualify, can you not hear!”, the woman shouts and pushes Antwi’s passport back at him. “Can I see your supervisor,” Antwi asks, his voice a bit mellowed. “What?”, the woman asks back. “Your supervisor,” Antwi repeated. “Where do you come from,” the woman asked, her words dripping with sarcasm. Antwi got the message. “Ghana!”, he said, a bit of sadness in his voice.
At that point, a male official in the next cubicle stretches his neck across and interjects: “What’s the problem?,” he asks Antwi. “I am travelling to South Sudan tomorrow morning,” Antwi says, “and I just need a damn one-night visa so that I can go to my hotel in Addis and rest for the night. That’s all,” the Ghanaian is now losing his cool.
The male official looks at Antwi quizzically and repeats what the woman has been telling him: “As a Ghanaian, you don’t qualify for visa-on-arrival.” Antwi looks into the eye of the man and asks, laconically, “why my brother?” The man says, “because you don’t qualify.” Antwi shakes his head. “Why don’t I qualify,” he asks the man. “A Ghanaian is an African and this African standing in front of you just wants a one-night-visa to sleep in Addis, the capital of the African Union, so he can catch his flight tomorrow morning. Is that too much to ask as an African in an African country?,” Antwi asks, his frustration clearly visible on his face.
The mention of the “African Union” makes the man behind the counter pause for a moment. He is thinking. He looks at Antwi. Something is ticking in the man’s head. African Union makes sense, doesn’t it?, he seems to think. Finally, he tells Antwi: “I am sorry my brother, but you don’t qualify.”
Antwi’s turns round to the queue, it is becoming shorter. The people of European stock are getting their visas and leaving the queue. But Antwi doesn’t qualify. An African. He asks the man, again: “So these people qualify?” The man answers yes. “What makes them qualify?” The man says: “Because the visa policy says so.” Antwi says: “You mean, they qualify because they are Europeans?” The man sees the sarcasm in Antwi’s question and says: “I didn’t make that policy, my job is to implement it.”
Antwi is getting nowhere, his eyes rounds in dismay, but he decides to press his point one last time: “So why did those you made the policy make such a policy?, he asks the man. “Why did they think it is alright to deprive Africans the right to move freely in their own continent, and grant that privilege to non-Africans who make it difficult for Africans to travel freely to Europe?,” Antwi asks. “I don’t know,” the man says. “And you haven’t found out why?, Antwi asks, a bit truculently. “Excuse me, I have work to do,” the man says and turns away his head to his cubicle.
Antwi is in danger of not getting his visa. He may end up sleeping at the airport, on the hard seats. He then realizes that he has his British passport in his hand luggage. He has a trump card now. And he decides to play it. He turns to the man and asks him: “So if I become European, would I qualify?” Finding the question a bit funny, a wry smile breaks at the corners of the man’s mouth. “Of course, all Europeans qualify,” he tells the Ghanaian. Antwi fetches his British passport from his hand luggage and pushes it through the hole underneath the glass screen.
The woman takes it first, turns it this way and that way, and gives it to the man, who upon inspecting the biodata page and convincing himself that both the photograph and the name belonged to Antwi, blurts out: “So why didn’t you give this to her all this time? Now you qualify!” Antwi’s mouth opens voluntarily but the words refuse to come out. The man nods to the woman and she begins to stamp the visa in Antwi’s British passport. “You pay 50 US dollars or 30 pounds,” she tells Antwi, a bit shamefaced but grumpy.
Antwi pays $50. The woman writes him a receipt and pushes both his Ghanaian and British passports back at him. Antwi shakes his head, a sarcastic smile radiating his face. He takes the passports, turns round, and sees only eight people in the queue. All the others are gone. They qualified. It has taken him a good part of 45 minutes haggling at the counter.
What Nkrumah wanted
From July 1, 2016, Ghana will introduce visa-on-arrival for all Africans, the second only country in Africa to do so after Rwanda four years ago. Ghana has had a visa-on-arrival policy for some time but it only covered citizens of five countries - Lesotho, Malawi, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uganda. That is going to change forever.
At the moment, Ghana has visa-free travel for nationals of 25 countries worldwide, including 14 ECOWAS countries, and Kenya, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Swaziland.
The ECOWAS Treaty, signed in Lagos (Nigeria) on 28 May 1975, enjoins member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), one of the five regional economic communities (RECs) of the African Union, to grant visa-free travel for 90 days to citizens of member states. By and large this has worked, to the point where today the 15 member countries of Ecowas issue “Ecowas passports” to their citizens.
The member states of Ecowas are: Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, and Mali.
Over the past three decades, Ghana, like the other Ecowas member states, has consistently fulfilled its obligations to the regional community in terms of visa-free travel for citizens of member countries, but when it comes to granting visa-free travel or visa-on-arrival to all Africans, Ghana was found wanting. Until July 1, 2016.
Thus, if Ghana’s first president, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, could rise from his grave at the Old Polo Grounds in Accra and see Ghana’s new visa-on-arrival policy, he would wave his favorite white handkerchief in commendation of the country’s current president, John Dramani Mahama.
For, on May 24, 1963, in Addis Ababa (the same Addis Ababa), Nkrumah stood at the podium at the founding conference of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which morphed into the African Union in 2002, and did everything, except cry, to convince his fellow African leaders of the necessity of breaking down the European-imposed borders in Africa so that Africa can have a common citizenship as part of the African Unity Project he sorely wanted the continent to have at the time.
“We have been charged,” Nkrumah told the leaders, “with this sacred task by our own people, and we cannot betray their trust by failing them. We will be mocking the hopes of our people if we show the slightest hesitation or delay by tackling realistically this question of African unity.” But Nkrumah spoke in vain.
Fifty-three years later, Nkrumah’s words must have rung in the ears of President John Mahama as he announced Ghana’s new visa-on-arrival policy in his State of the Nation Address on February 25, 2016. Normally a day of color and pomp in Ghana’s Parliament, President Mahama’s announcement made the day even more radiant. As the only Ghanaian president to be born after the country’s independence in 1957, Mahama (born in 1958) has taken Nkrumah’s dreams a tad forward by changing Ghana’s visa-on-arrival policy to cover all Africans. As such, his words that day deserve to be set in stone.
From the high podium of Parliament, Mahama told his countrymen in the last of his first term’s State of the Nation Addresses, ahead of crucial parliamentary and presidential elections fixed for November 7, 2016: “The world we live in today is a world that has become a more integrated and connected place, that creates both challenges and opportunities for our dear nation. It is important as we seek to build stronger relations with our friends and allies that we take this into consideration.
“We must also, as a leading nation on the West Coast of our continent, live up to our principles and our ideals that have informed our foreign policy since our independence and continue to do so, because those ideals are as relevant today as they were at our independence.”
Mahama continued: “Our First President charged that Africa should unite because in unity lies strength, we are far from that but there are steps we can take as a country that can bring Africa closer to us, and create economic opportunities as we do so for our citizens. Earlier this year at the Executive Council Meeting of the African Union, it was decided that AU member states should review their internal and external security situations with a view to putting in place the mechanisms that would allow for the issuance of visas on arrival for citizens of AU member states, with the option to stay in the country for up to 30 days.
“We believe creating opportunity for the mobility of people on our continent is key to unlocking our economic potential. Today within some of our regional organizations, in our case the Ecowas, and in a number of countries such as Kenya, Seychelles, Mauritius and Rwanda, it is possible to travel without having to obtain a visa before visiting another member state.
“But by and large, travelling across our continent is a hassle. Indeed for those African businessmen and women trying to do business on our continent, it is actually easier for them to operate within the Schengen Area of the European Union than it is to travel around our continent. Africa has a growing and dynamic middle class that is both entrepreneurial, forward-looking, and has purchasing power and we intend to make it easier for them to enter our country.
“With effect from July this year, we will be allowing citizens of AU member states to enter into our country and obtain visas on arrival with the option to stay for up to 30 days and experience what our country has to offer. This measure, with time should stimulate air travel, trade, investment and tourism.”
There were cheers all around the chamber of Parliament. Shouts of “hear, hear” boomed from the government benches. President Mahama smiled, and went on: “We have managed movement within and out of our country with citizens of the Ecowas member states so we have the capacity to manage this new regime. We also know that there may be persons from our continent who we may not want to admit into our country, and hence the provision for obtaining visas on arrival and not visa-free entry. This will enable the Ghana Immigration Service to make a determination as to whether to allow them entry or not into our country. In doing this, we are taking up the needed leadership of our Founder’s dream of bringing the citizens of the African continent closer together.”
If the dead could hear, a broad smile would have beamed across Nkrumah’s face. What the older presidents that followed him would not do, this “youngish” president born just five years prior to the birth of the OAU has done a bit of what Nkrumah fervently desired, what Mahama described as “the needed leadership of our Founder’s dream of bringing the citizens of the African continent closer together”.
What Africa must do!
On 17-18 July 2016, African leaders will meet at the AU mid-year Summit in the Rwandese capital, Kigali, and Mahama’s words should encourage them to do the decent thing of reviewing their visa policies and allow visa-free travel for all Africans, or that failing, at least visa on arrival for all Africans, because it is long overdue.
Coincidentally, the AU Summit is being held in a country whose president, Paul Kagame, is so forward-looking when it comes to African integration and free movement for Africans. Last August, this writer had the opportunity to discuss the subject with President Kagame, and because his answers were so profoundly critical, it is important that his exact words are quoted here at length.
I asked him if he was happy with the speed of the integration process in the East African Community (EAC). His answer was emphatic: “Integration is the way to go for all Africa actually, and I don’t see why not, especially knowing that the integration of a continent is very vital for development. When we integrate everything, economies, infrastructure, etc, and allow people to move freely across borders, it will boost our economies by so many times. So there is no reason why we can’t do it. But because of mental issues, some of our brothers and sisters in Africa are so interested in being different and staying apart from each other, so they find it easier to keep other Africans out.”
He went on: “I saw a debate on TV during one of the World Economic Forums in Cape Town where an African entrepreneur was saying that he had more difficulties as an African to move around in Africa than an American or European. So there is something backward about what we are doing as Africans, and the integration process should be about resolving these issues. For example, why should you find it more difficult as a Ghanaian to come to Rwanda than the Belgians and the French? It just beats me. I find it difficult to understand. So integration should reverse that kind of thing, it should not be there in the first place, and we are seeing it happening.
“There is good progress in the East African region, the five member countries - Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda – though there have been some difficulties and concerns, are patiently moving forward and addressing the concerns. We have been telling people: ‘Okay, if you have concerns, let’s talk about them, but let’s continue the momentum of integration, especially when you have already noticed and seen the benefits. Having a common market of 140 million people is a great thing’.
“So it is working. We have seen the regional infrastructure coming together. We have seen people moving freely in many parts of the subregion. We have seen it also happening in Southern Africa under SADC and COMESA, in West Africa under Ecowas, and in Central Africa as well. Yes, there is a long way to go, it is work in progress. But in East Africa, it has been very impressive.”
Having answered me so handsomely, I next asked the President about his government’s decision four years ago to waive the normally frustrating, and sometimes humiliating, visa procedures for all Africans, a decision that has been hailed by many as the kind of practical actions Africa needs at this point of the integration project. So I asked the President: “When you meet your colleague leaders at the AU summits, do you ask them why they are not following Rwanda’s example of visa-on-arrival for all Africans?” Kagame’s answer was short: “Well, we tell them why we are doing it rationally, but we are careful not to offend anyone.”
Not satisfied with that answer, I asked the President: “But why should it offend anyone when free movement for Africans is one of the most needed things on the continent today?” His answer was broader this time: “In fact, we try to tell them that, having tested it over time, the visa-on-arrival system works. It has worked for us and has more benefits than any anticipated problems. I know their worries, but I show them how for us those worries have been demystified.
“You know some people think that crime will increase if free movement of Africans is allowed on the continent. First of all, it is in bad taste because the assumption is that Africans are criminals, and that there are more criminals in Africa than anywhere else. But I tell them no, if there are any criminals they should be taken care of by the law.
“Second, the people they call criminals don’t need to travel to other African countries to commit crime if they are truly criminals. They will just stay where they are. How can we imagine that a criminal would want to travel from Country X in West Africa to Rwanda in order to commit a crime? First, the travel costs are expensive, and second, if they are the sophisticated criminals that we think they are, they will get a visa without us giving it to them anyway. They will always find a way to get visas, either by paying for it somewhere or do anything to meet the visa requirements we set.
“So I tell my colleague leaders that impeding Africans from accessing easy visas to our countries has no basis. And worse, just being worried about Africans and not worried about Asians or Westerners or Latin Americans having easy access to our countries sounds dubious to me.”
The African self-hatred
President Kagame’s last sentence is really the crux of the free movement in Africa conundrum. “Just being worried about Africans and not worried about Asians or Westerners or Latin Americans having easy access to our countries” sounds pretty much like self-hatred of the most dubious order. That dubiousness is what Kingsley Antwi tried in vain to let the immigration officers at the Addis Ababa airport to see on January 30, 2016. Westerners, Asians and Latin Americans qualify for Ethiopian visa-on-arrival, but Africans don’t. So the Ethiopian authorities, who have the onerous responsibility of hosting the headquarters of the African Union, are worried about Africans having free movement in Ethiopia but are not worried about Westerners, Asians and Latin Americans having freer access to the country.
According to the records, Ethiopia allows visa-free travel to citizens of only two countries – Kenya and Djibouti. But it gives visa-on-arrival to 40 countries worldwide, and the great surprise is that only one of them is African – South Africa!
Astonishingly, many African countries have similar policies. They find it so easy to give visa-free or visa-on-arrival privileges to Western, Asian, and Latin American countries but restrict it to Africans! Meanwhile the same Africans find it so difficult to get visas to Western, Asian and Latin American countries, and if they get it at all, the cost is prohibitive and they have to go through hoops.
As such, Africans today live with the distressing reality of non-Africans having freer access to African countries than Africans themselves, while also being severely restricted from having free access to Western, Asian and Latin American countries. It is a double injustice, which leads President Kagame to say: “It just beats me. I find it difficult to understand.”
That is the self-hatred the African faces at the hands of his own African countries. Yet it is not as if visa-free travel does not exist in Africa, it does! Africa’s five regional economic communities (RECs) have visa-free travel for citizens of member countries. What they don’t want to do is to extend the facility continent-wide. As President Kagame pointed out: “We have seen people moving freely in many parts of [the East African] subregion. We have seen it also happening in Southern Africa under SADC and COMESA, in West Africa under Ecowas, and in Central Africa as well.”
But because visa-free travel has not been extended Africa-wide, at the moment a West African citizen can travel visa-free in all the 15 Ecowas member countries but cannot do so in the other RECs. An East African citizen can similarly travel visa-free in all the EAC member countries but cannot do so in the other RECs. A Southern African citizen can travel visa-free in all the SADC member countries but cannot do so in the other RECs. Thus, it needs just a small dose of political will by African leaders and a small announcement by the African Union to extend visa-free travel from the RECs to the whole continent.
Concerns that hold no water
So far, the concerns holding back visa-free travel for all Africans in Africa, as President Kagame pointed out in our interview, have been defeated by the realities of the visa-free regimes in the RECs. Usually countries cite the risk of increased criminality and, now, terrorism as the main reasons why visa-free travel cannot be granted to all Africans. But West Africa has had Boko Haram terrorists causing havoc in Nigeria for some years now, but visa-free travel has not been withdrawn from Ecowas citizens. And Boko Haram terrorism has not extended measurably beyond the “Nigeria-area”.
It is true that Cameroon, Niger, and Chad have been affected by Boko Haram activities in the past two years, but it is not because of visa-free travel. It is because Cameroon, Niger and Chad were tasked by Ecowas and the international community to help Nigeria stem out Boko Haram terrorism in the “neighbourhood”. Until then, though Boko Haram’s “area of operation” roughly touched on the point where the four countries meet geographically, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad were relatively free of Boko Harm activities.
Elsewhere in West Africa, there has been intense terrorist activity in Mali in the last few years and also in the Sahel countries, but apart from the one terrorist incident in Cote d’Ivoire in early 2016, visa-free West Africa (for Ecowas citizens) has been untouched by terrorism in Mali and in the Sahel. And as such, Ecowas has not withdrawn visa-free travel for member countries.
Similarly, Al Shabaab terrorists, based in Somalia, have attacked Kenya and Uganda in the recent past, but Somalia is not even a member of the East African Community (EAC). However, Al Shabaab terrorists have been able to attack Kenya and Uganda in spite of Somalia not being a member of the EAC for its citizens to enjoy the EAC’s visa-free travel facility. What it means is that either the Al Shabaab terrorists obtained visas to travel to Kenya and Uganda or they used other routes and means (including local sleeping cells) to attack the two countries. And, importantly, despite the Al Shabaab attacks in Kenya and Uganda, the EAC has not withdrawn visa-free travel for its member countries.
The same situation exists in Southern Africa and Central Africa where visa-free travel continues for citizens of SADC and ECCAS member countries. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) covers even a larger area than the EAC. SADC’s 15-member countries are: Angola, Botswana, DRCongo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mauritius, Madagascar and Seychelles. None of these countries have suffered terrorist attacks or increased criminality because of visa-free travel in the member countries.
Likewise, the 11 member states of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) – Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome & Principe, Angola, Burundi, DRCongo and Rwanda – have not suffered increased criminality or terrorist attacks because of visa-free travel in member countries.
So President Kagame is right: “… Impeding Africans from accessing easy visas to our countries has no basis,” he told me last year. But this sound reasoning doesn’t seem to get through to African policymakers. As such the following distressing tally continues to be the reality in Africa.
The African record
Here is just a selection of the harrowing visa regimes in Africa:
Zimbabwe: Apart from the 15 SADC countries, Zimbabwe has visa-free travel for 33 other countries worldwide, but only 4 are African – Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and Angola. Additionally, Zimbabwe has visa-on-arrival facility for 81 countries worldwide, but only 8 are African – Algeria, Burundi, Cape Verde, Comoros, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome & Principe, and Rwanda.
Tellingly, on November 28, 2014, Zimbabwe and Zambia introduced a common “universal visa” for tourists visiting the two countries for up to 30 days with day trips to Botswana. It means the same visa can take tourists to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana. And surprise, surprise, of the 40 countries worldwide eligible for the “universal visa”, only 2 are African – Burundi and Rwanda. Thus the message is that African citizens broadly do not qualify to be tourists, otherwise the “universal visa” would have covered them.
South Africa: President Mandela’s country has visa-free travel up to 90 days for 47 countries worldwide, and only 5 of them are African - Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and all 5 are SADC member countries anyway. Besides, South Africa has visa free travel up to 30 days for 28 countries worldwide, and only 9 are African - Benin, Cape Verde, Gabon, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, and Swaziland – and 6 of the 9 are SADC member countries.
Tanzania: It has visa-free travel up to 3 months for 44 countries worldwide, 13 of them are SADC member states, 3 (Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda), are EAC member states which Tanzania belongs, and 2 (Ghana, and Gambia) are the other African countries from elsewhere on the continent. Interestingly, 3 SADC countries, Madagascar, DRCongo, and Mauritius need visas to Tanzania.
That notwithstanding, Tanzania has a generous visa-on arrival policy for 44 African countries, except Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Western Sahara.
Kenya: East Africa’s leading country, Kenya has visa exemption for 43 countries worldwide – including 4 EAC countries (Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania) and 15 other African countries - Botswana, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Swaziland, South Africa, Sierra Leone and Seychelles.
Kenya also has a generous visa on arrival policy for 30-day visits, but the citizens of Somalia, Eritrea, Cameroon, Mali, and Senegal still require visas to visit Kenya.
Since February 2014, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda have introduced a common “East African Tourist Visa”, and unlike the Zimbabwe-Zambia “universal visa”, all countries worldwide are eligible for the “East African Tourist Visa”, which costs $100 to acquire for a 90-day travel, starting first in the country that issued it.
DRCongo: It is one of the meanest countries on the continent when it comes to visa policy. It has visa-free travel for only 3 African countries - Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe - and visa on arrival for another 3 African countries - Kenya, Mauritius, and Tanzania.
Nigeria: A country that prides itself of being “the giant of Africa” has visa exemption for only 2 African countries (Morocco and Seychelles), apart from the Ecowas-mandated visa-free travel for the 15 Ecowas member states. Nigeria has visa on arrival for Kenya up to a 90-day travel, and that it. All other African countries require visas to travel to Nigeria, which is equally mean with its visa regime.
Cameroon: Another country with a harrowing visa regime. It has visa exemption for only 4 African countries - Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic, and Congo-Brazzaville (the last 2 being ECCAS member countries. Otherwise all countries require visas to Cameroon. And it has no visa on arrival policy.
Cote d’Ivoire: It allows visa-free access for Ecowas countries, and Congo Brazzaville, Chad, Central African Republic, Tunisia, Mauritania, Morocco, and Seychelles. It has no visa on arrival for any country.
Liberia: Visa free for Ecowas members only. No visa on arrival for any country.
The Gambia: A small country but quite enlightened when it comes to its visa regime. It has visa-free travel for 104 countries worldwide, including 15 Ecowas countries, and Western Sahara, Morocco, Mauritania, Lesotho, Botswana, Malawi, Swaziland, and Zambia. The Gambia also has visa exemption (but entry clearance required) for Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. Otherwise, all other African countries require visas, and there is no visa on arrival for any African country. Visa on arrival is restricted to only France, USA, Portugal, and Spain.
Senegal: Another country with an enlightened visa policy, Senegal has visa exemption for 125 countries up to 90 days, including 15 Ecowas countries, and 26 other African countries - including Algeria, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo-B, DRCongo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Tunisia, Swaziland, South Africa, Seychelles, Rwanda, Morocco, Mauritius, Malawi, Madagascar. Only 8 African countries require visas to travel to Senegal - Libya, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Tanzania, Malawi, and Angola.
Mali: It has visa-free trael for 15 Ecowas countries, and Western Sahara, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Algeria, and Chad. Until 9 March 2015 (when terrorists attacked the Malian capital, Bamako) citizens of most countries were able to obtain visa on arrival. However, they are now required to obtain visas in advance.
Egypt: It has a complicated visa regime. There is visa-free travel for 3 months granted to Algeria (for ages 14 years and below), Libya (only females), Morocco (14 years and below), Sudan (50 years and above, or 16 years and below), and Tunisia (14 years and below). Egypt’s visa on arrival policy for 30-day travel is denied to 46 African countries, almost the entire continent, and yet Egypt has visa-on-arrival for almost the rest of the world
Tunisia: It has visa exemption for up to 90 days for 95 countries worldwide, 18 of them African. But citizens of Canada, Germany and the United States can visit visa-free for up to 4 months. Apart from the 18 African countries (Angola, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Namibia, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Seychelles, and South Africa) who go to Tunisia visa-free, the rest of Africa (37 countries) require visas. There is no visa on arrival.
Algeria: It has visa free for tourism for 90 days, granted to Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Western Sahara, Seychelles, and Tunisia. All other African countries need visa.
Morocco: It has visa exemption for up to 90 days for 70 countries worldwide, including 9 African countries: Algeria, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Tunisia, Senegal, and Niger. All other Africans need a visa, and there is no visa on arrival.
Angola: Another of the countries with a mean visa policy, Angola exempts visa for only Namibia. Otherwise all African countries require a visa. And visa on arrival is only for Cape Verde, and personnel of oil companies.
Namibia: It has visa-free travel for 52 countries worldwide, including 15 SADC countries, and Kenya. Otherwise all African countries require a visa. And there is no visa on arrival.
Botswana: It has visa exemption for 103 countries for up to 90 days, including 14 SADC countries, and Cameroon, South Sudan, Kenya, Angola, Gambia, Sierra Leone, and Uganda. The rest of Africa need visas to go to Botswana.
Mozambique: It grants visa-free travel for up to 3 months to 8 SADC countries - Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. But all other countries without a Mozambique embassy can obtain a visa on arrival. (Embassies in Africa: Angola, Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe).
What Africans want
The above is a sample of how Africa treats Africans when it comes to travel. Earlier this year, a very embarrassing incident occurred when a Cameroonian who lives in Germany and has been fighting for Zimbabwean causes in Germany (defending Zimbabwe’s land reform program and asking for Western economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe to be lifted) was denied a visa by Zimbabwe to visit Zimbabwe for the first time to recharge his batteries.
He applied for his visa online and an immigration officer in Harare who does not know how much this Cameroonian has worked for Zimbabwe abroad turned him down! When the Cameroonian went to Zimbabwe’s embassy in Berlin to remonstrate, he was received warmly by the diplomats there who knew about his work and who thanked him profusely for the work he had done on behalf of Zimbabwe for the last 16 years. But they could do nothing about the visa refusal because it had originated from headquarters in Harare. Imagine the embarrassment President Robert Mugabe will feel, if only he can hear about this!
It is to avoid such embarrassing situations that more African voices have been raised in recent years and months for African countries to allow visa-free movement in Africa for Africans. In July, Kwame Tapiwa Muzawazi, a 32-year-old pan-Africanist and editor-in-chief of the Harare-based “Book of African Records” (Africa’s version of the Guinness Book of Records), will launch a signature petition across Africa in pursuit of visa-free movement in Africa for Africans.
Calling himself a “servant of Africa”, this 32-year-old Zimbabwean is an enigma in many ways. His passion for Africa is extraordinary for his age. Born Errol Muzawazi in 1984, he dropped his English colonial name and adopted Kwame in honor of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah.
In 2010, Kwame became the first black man to cross the African continent by road from north to south on a study tour across 21 countries, a feat that saw him awarded diplomatic status by the government of Zimbabwe as “Ambassador of Zimbabwean Tourism in Eastern Europe”.
Kwame is the founder and editor-in-chief of the “Book of African Records”, an initiative designed to ensure pan-African knowledge is retained and disseminated by future generations.
As Kwame explains: “The Book of African Records is a celebration of great deeds by African people whilst also serving as a positive change agent against modern media portrayal of the African continent as the home of war, disease, hunger and corruption.” On May 6, 2016, President Mugabe described the book as “a treasure for Zimbabwe and Africa” when Kwame went to State House to present the president with a personal copy.
On June 14, 2016, Kwame again went to the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa to present a personal copy of the book to the AU Commission chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Utterly impressed by the book, Dlamini-Zuma invited Kwame to come and present the book to African leaders at the AU Summit in Kigali, where he will have two minutes to speak to the leaders about the book.
In a letter to Kwame confirming the appointment, Dr Dlamini-Zuma said: “This historic publication is a wonderful piece of intellect, education, reference and inspiration. Congratulations to you and your team for coming up with this pan-African initiative which syncs with the AU’s Agenda 2063. In view of this, I believe this book deserves to be presented to the AU Assembly at the next Summit scheduled to meet in Kigali, Republic of Rwanda. This will not only enable the gathered Heads of State and Government to witness the great things our African youth may do but will also be a platform to facilitate further support for the project.”
An international law graduate, Kwame did his Masters in Poland. In 2009, for his work in cultural diplomacy and counteracting stereotypes on Africa, he was selected by the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education as the “best foreign student in Poland” out of 17,000 international students then studying in Polish universities. Kwame is currently a PhD candidate, scheduled to defend in September 2016 a thesis on “The legacy of colonial legislation on African identity: The case of Cameroon, South Africa, and Zimbabwe”.
Soon after the AU Summit in Kigali in July, Kwame will launch a “Free Movement for Africans in Africa Campaign”. “This moment,” he explains, “is well timed to coincide with the elitist, tokenist, and parochial launch of the African Passport that shall happen at the AU Kigali Summit. This term ‘African Passport’ is a misnomer; it should be called the ‘African Elite Passport’ because this passport will not be available to the common citizens of Africa. It shall only be available to presidents and their ministers. These are people who already have diplomatic passports and as such an African passport makes no difference to them. We want an African passport that is available to every ordinary Joe. Until and unless that happens, the African is still manacled in the chains of colonial borders and un-brotherly visas.”
A journey of discovery
In 2010, Kwame travelled consecutively by road across 21 African countries, from Morocco to South Africa. The motive was to find out what are the experiences of an African travelling in Africa. Originally beginning in Europe, the journey took Kwame to Africa via Algeciras in Spain to Tangiers in Morocco, and all the way down to South Africa, over a period of 7 months and 24,000 km.
During the trip, Kwame says out of the 21 countries he visited with a Zimbabwean passport, he needed visas to 17 of them. “This requirement for visas,” Kwame argues, “is a travesty of pan-Africanism, particularly in view of the fact that a European or American passport holder needs only 9 visas to travel to those same countries where I, an African born in post-colonial Africa, needed 17.”
To date, Kwame has travelled to 46 of Africa’s 55 countries, of which he needed visas for 40 of those 46 countries. “This is a monstrous atrocity against African independence,” Kwame thunders. “Each time I travel to an African country and I am subjected to the costs, humiliation, and time-wasting procedures of applying for a visa, I can’t avoid coming to the conclusion that there is a paradox in Africa. The paradox is that whereas in the 20th century the black man fought against the white man for freedom, it seems that in the 21st century - still in pursuit of freedom and the fruits of independence - the black man will have to fight to free himself from himself, to free himself from his self-imposed limitations, omissions and passivity.”
A man of a good turn of phrase, Kwame is adamant that: “Visas are virtually problematic everywhere in Africa. It takes time, money, and superfluous bureaucratic rigmarole. But this is not the most painful thing. The most heart-breaking issue is that when I travelled in 2010 across 21 countries, I needed visas to 17 of the countries because I was a Zimbabwean passport holder, yet a British or American passport holder would have needed only 9 visas to go through the same route. Fifty years after the so-called African independence, this is a travesty, a hypocrisy, a monstrosity.”
His signature campaign will end up in a petition to the AU and African governments to totally remove visa requirements for African citizens travelling to other African countries. “Visa restrictions,” Kwame says, “are not only a colonial mechanism that was imposed by colonial governments to cripple African movement and solidarity, but indeed an economic balkanization of African countries into mini economies that means not much in the grand global scheme of things.
“It is also worth to note that the Europeans who introduced the visa system in Africa have themselves back in Europe removed visas, let alone physical borders, for Europeans travelling in Europe. The economic logic is therefore clear. The petition for the total removal of visas and for the freedom of movement for Africans in Africa is a just and timeous call that shall be backed by millions across the continent.
“It is the view of this campaign that for as long as Africans restrict movement to each other’s countries, talk of African unity, African union, African solidary, and all other such clichéd appellations are mere lip service, and in fact a disservice to the masses who are still expectant of the day when the black man will be totally free from the manacles of neo-colonisation.”
Is there an African leader, bureaucrat, or immigration officer who can argue against this? The time is here for African countries to free African citizens from visa bondage.