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Africa Needs to Open up - This time, Not for Trade - But First, to Its People

Africa Needs to Open up - This time, Not for Trade - But First, to Its People

The unfortunate story of my friend, Pamela Adie who was turned back at the borders of Mozambique a few days ago isn’t new but reinforces the horrible and ridiculous travel situations for many Africans within the continent.

Adie, activist, who leads a pro-LGBT group, The Equality Hub, in Nigeria in a series of tweets, said she was turned back at the Southern African country for not having a visa. For every research she did before her travel, and truly, as confirmed by the Visa Index 2022, only Visa on Arrivals is available for Nigerians into Mozambique.

The immigration officers insisted even though the Visa on Arrival policy is valid - and having provided all necessary documents requested; hotel reservation, employer’s letter, return ticket - she still needs to provide a letter of invitation which has 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 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.

And to add that, it is also expensive to fly within the continent - thanks to the government's heavy taxes, protectionist policies, poor connectivity and infrastructure - which sadly, continues 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 mentioned, but the continent needs to review its travel policies that 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, and 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 we will keep losing bright young minds who (sometime undertake precarious trips) to Europe in search of better lives.

And especially, 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 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. 

By Olufemi Ogunjobi

Olufemi has a Bachelor’s Degree in (Communication) Language Arts from Nigeria’s federal institution, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, and an Executive Education Program Certification in Think Tank Management from Pan Atlantic University (Lagos Business School), Nigeria. 

He has worked for a decade as a freelance journalist, with professional working experience, and contributed to a number of major Nigerian publications, including The Nation Newspaper, Daily Sun, National Mirror, Nigerian Tribune, The Guardian, and his articles have international references such as The Commonwealth, The Qrius (formerly known as The Indian Economist), and spoken at numerous conferences and leadership events. 

Currently, he is a Commentor with Young Voices, and the African Programs Manager at Students For Liberty where he handles all aspects of marketing and campaigns, communications, training, leadership, and capacity development for students and young professionals across 28 African countries. 

He is based in London, England, and currently running an Executive Education Program in Media, Communications and Public Policy at King’s College, London