Why Africa’s strict visa requirements are bad for the economy

“Africa is one of the regions in the world with the highest visa requirements. Visa restrictions imply missed economic opportunities for intra-regional trade and for the local service economy such as tourism, cross-country medical services or education.”

Mthuli Ncube

Mthuli Ncube

So said Professor Mthuli Ncube, chief economist and vice-president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), yesterday during a panel discussion at the AfDB annual meetings in Marrakech, Morocco.

Ncube underlined that “the movement of talent and people is at the core of regional integration… Twenty-five per cent of all trade in Africa is informal; it is the strongest in West Africa. If there were no visa requirements, informal sector trading would boom.”

Dr Ibrahim Bocar Ba, commissioner of macroeconomic policy at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), said that Africans mainly migrate to other African countries. In the ECOWAS region more than 80% of all migration is intra-regional. Nonetheless, Africans need visas to go to 80% of African countries. These restrictions are higher for Africans traveling within Africa than for Europeans and North Americans.

Razia Khan, who is head of research in Africa for Standard Chartered Bank, introduced herself rather as a citizen of an African country, traveling extensively within Africa – who often measures the time that it takes to get visas against the amount of economic research that could have been developed.

Leonard Rugwabiza, a director at the ministry of finance and economic planning in Rwanda, shared the lessons of Rwanda, which has moved to biometrix border management, low restrictions on transfer of services in engineering and legal services as well as visas on arrival for all African citizens since the start of this year. Rwanda, with a limited number of embassies abroad, has also introduced e-visas in order to reduce the costs and time constraints of people in obtaining visas.

He confirms that “since we opened our borders, tourism from African countries has increased by 24%.” Furthermore, “trade actually shifted from being oriented to Europe and North America, and is now oriented to neighbouring countries. Trade with neighbouring countries increased by 50% last year, and trade with neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo rose by 73%”.

Abdul Awl, board member of Dahabshil Group, concluded that: “The private sector is the engine of growth, and we all talk about improving the climate for business sector. Visas are a major barrier, and pose restrictions on doing business.”