This time, Not for Trade – But First, to Its People
A few days ago my friend, Pamela Adie was turned back at the borders of Mozambique. This unfortunate story isn’t new, but reinforces the horrible and ridiculous travel situations many Africans face when travelling within the continent.
Adie, is an activist, who leads a pro-LGBT group, The Equality Hub, in Nigeria. Through a series of tweets, said she was turned back at the Southern African country for not having an appropriate visa. Prior to travel she researched that a requirement to obtain a visa on arrival in Mozambique was only available to Nigerians. This was confirmed by the Visa Index 2022,. She therefore travelled to Mozambique with the intention of obtaining the visa on arrival as required by law
At the border the immigration officers confirmed ithe Visa on Arrival policy is valid. Nevertheless, despite providing all necessary documents requested by the officer such as hotel reservation, employer’s letter, return ticket – he insisted that she still needed to provide a letter of invitation. Such a letter would need to come from the Mozambican embassy in her country inviting her.
Like some sort of criminal, she was escorted back to the plane, and ferried back to Nigeria forfeiting the purpose of her business trip to the country.
Intra-African travel is complicated and fraught with suspicion. To travel in Africa, according to the Visa Openness Index Report 2021, 51% of African Countries require African countries to obtain a visa before they arrive. 25% of African countries welcome some or all African visitors, visa-free. 24% of African countries allow some or all African visitors to obtain a visa on arrival.
Only Seychelles, Benin and The Gambia offer visa-free access to other fellow Africans.
Interestingly, as a matter of fact, citizens of only 15 African nations can travel to South Africa without a visa, yet holders of 28 different European passports can enter the country freely.
To add to that, it is also inordinately expensive to fly within the continent ,thanks to the government’s heavy taxes, protectionist policies, poor connectivity and infrastructure which, sadly, continue to stifle the growth of the aviation industry on the continent. On average, passenger’s fees and charges are twice as much on the continent than in Europe or the Middle East.
While the African Union (AU) has developed ambitious plans for the continental free trade area, the free movement of its people lags behind. Undoubtedly, “trade is a force for good”, as Director General of the World Trade Organization, Okonjo Iweala, rightly stated. Yet to achieve this the continent needs to review its travel policies which continue to shut its own people out.
Right now, African countries need to strategically position themselves to make the AFCTA work, and one of such ways is to relax their visa restrictions for easy entry of Africans. Like the European Union, we need to craft out a working model that will ensure great success in connecting people and economies and definitely not with closed borders, or harsh visa restrictions.
If the continent is concerned about building a prosperous future for its citizens it needs to set aside its differences and ensure people have the joy and ability to travel, work and live within their own continent. Otherwise Africa will keep losing bright young minds many to Europe in search of better lives including many taking undertake precarious trips to get there)
For a continent projected to double its current growth rate by 2050 only with the free movement of people will there be boost in intra-Africa trade, commerce and tourism; labour mobility, intra-Africa knowledge and skills transfer, social integration and tourism; improved trans-border infrastructure and shared development.
Pamela’s story is one of too many sad experiences that Africans have been exposed to in commuting across the continent. Her thread is full of bile testimonials and harrowing experiences of people in the hands of government officials at the borders and in African countries. We need to do better.