This article is part of the World Economic Forum on Africa 2017.
Visa-free travel is something many of us take for granted in today’s increasingly interconnected world. But for many Africans this modern luxury is much more of a lottery, with citizens of some African countries enjoying similar travel rights to Europeans, while others fare little better than residents of war-torn Syria.
Citizens of the Seychelles have the most travel freedom among Africans, with visa-free access to 137 countries, according to the Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index 2017, which ranks each country and territory in the world by the number of countries that their citizens can travel to visa-free.
The archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean offers visa-free access to those visiting for tourism or business. In return its own passport-holders have a level of visa-free access close to that enjoyed by citizens of the EU nations of Croatia and Romania.
Similarly, citizens from the tourism hot-spot of Mauritius have a high level of travel freedom, with visa-free access to 131 countries.
This is ahead of many Caribbean islands, Latin American countries and non-EU European nations like Serbia and Moldova.
South Africans have visa-free access to 98 countries, but the continent’s biggest economy has slipped down the ranking. Between 2007 and 2009 South Africa was consistently the best-placed African nation, before being overtaken by the Seychelles and Mauritius in 2010.
Ghana took the biggest tumble in this year’s rankings, losing visa-free access to four countries between 2016 and 2017, down to 59 countries from 63 last year.
However, citizens of the West African nation, which is ranked joint 12th in the region, are still faring well compared with passport holders from Zimbabwe, in 30th place.
Out of the African nations, Kenya made the most progress in this year’s index, securing visa-free access to a further two countries during 2016.
Africa’s least powerful passports
Citizens of a handful of African countries need visas to cross most borders. The lowest-ranked African country, in 100th place, is Somalia, just ahead of Syria. Somalis can only travel to 30 countries without visa restrictions, while Syrians can visit 29.
And while Nigeria continues to vie with South Africa for the title of Africa’s largest economy, its citizens can currently travel visa-free to fewer than half of the number of nations that South African passport-holders can.
John McKenna is a senior writer at Formative Content.