Seamless travel a key road to better EA integration – Movement of people across Africa for business, education and tourism is key to efforts aimed at boosting intra-Africa trade and integration.
However, barriers still exist that have slowed down free movement of people and goods in the continent largely due to red tape and restrictive policies.
To achieve Agenda 2063, the African Union launched the first African Passport at the 27th AU Summit in July 2016. The electronic passport is being issued to AU Heads of State and Government, Foreign Ministers and other high-level representatives.
According to the African Development Bank (AfDB)’s Visa Openness Report 2017, the AU aims to ultimately roll out the passport for all African citizens to spur integration, facilitate free movement of people and promote open visa policies and procedures for African travellers, among others.
“The good thing is that this region is doing very well – the joint visa and movement of people. However, we talk about unity, movement of goods but we have been looking in the future without the demand side.
Now with increased tourism and movement the demand side is going to demand more from our leaders,” African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) president Kaddu Sebunya told the Business Daily recently on the sidelines of the Giants Conservation and Tourism Investment Forum in Kigo, Uganda. He adds that a lot more could be achieved by the bloc going back to the drawing board to encourage movement of people among the EAC member states.
“Our leaders in many ways have been ahead of us. In other words how many East Africans travel without visas? The numbers are still very low because it was not demand driven, which is okay. But these kind of things start happening then the citizens are going to demand these things. In fact, the delay in agreements in East Africa is due to the fact that our leaders are not being pushed in that direction by the citizens.
“The leaders have been making these wonderful decisions without us demanding for them but I am optimistic that the young people are going to start demanding these things as we devolve infrastructure,” he said.
According to the AfDB’s Africa Visa Openness Report 2017, African countries are becoming more open to one another with indications that travel within the continent is becoming easier.
Free movement is not only key to trade but also a catalyst for tourism growth in the region where the industry is dominated by foreigners.
The implementation of the East African multi-entry single tourist visa since February 2014 is gradually gaining traction in the region.
The policy enables tourists to travel across Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda on a single visa obtained from any of these countries. For instance, Kenya has become the key market source for tourists to Uganda, accounting for about 48 per cent of the East African travellers followed by Rwanda which is second at 35 per cent, while Tanzania and Burundi account to about 11 per cent and six per cent respectively.
Kenya has also benefited from free movement of East African citizens within the bloc.
The largest share of the country’s tourists from the rest of Africa are from Uganda, with 77,400 visitors to Kenya last year compared to 58,300 from Tanzania, 70,600 from South Africa and 59,300 from West Africa.
Regional efforts to promote tourism in the EAC bloc has seen increased campaigns to local and foreign visitors as well as investors in the sector.
At the tourism investors forum Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni hosted for more than 50 high-net worth international investors, the country’s State agencies cited seamless travel in the EAC among incentives in place to boost the industry.
Investors in attendance including former British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, expressed optimism that the policies in place would create a conducive business environment for the industry to thrive.
“I have been to a large number of conferences and heard a large number of investment pitches, and I have to say what I’ve seen here was pretty good,” he said. “We have heard how the Ugandan government will cut through a lot of red tape and bureaucracy for investors. What is so important now is implementation. This is a great initiative and deserves a great deal of support,” said Mr Osborne who is also the editor of London’s Evening Standard newspaper.
Taking stock of the progress made in the sector, Ugandan officials said stability and deliberate measures to encourage free movement of people and animals in the region is paying dividends that have seen tourists increase from about 700 at the height of civil strife in 1980s before President Museveni came to power to over the more than 1.2 million tourists the country currently receives.
Uganda ranked second after Seychelles among the top 20 African countries in the AfDB Africa Visa Openness Index. Other EAC states that scored highly were Rwanda at ninth position, Kenya at 15th and Tanzania at 17th. According to the report, Seychelles is still the only country on the continent to offer visa-free access for all Africans.
“We’ve been working hard to protect our natural environment, while building the infrastructure for our visitors and citizens, to enjoy Rwanda’s unique attractions.
“Growth in this industry has proven to be a driver of shared prosperity, notably because we ensure that Rwandans benefit directly, from tourism revenues,” said Rwandan President Paul Kagame who was in London for the 2017 World Tourism Awards where he was feted for the country’s initiatives to develop sustainable tourism on November 7.
Sustained promotions and making pitches to investors and travellers in the sector is expected to benefit conservation efforts in the region as well as increase eco-friendly direct foreign investments.