By Evelyn Masaba
One day, you make up your mind and decide to travel and see the rest of the world plus what it has to offer far away from home. This seems like a wonderful idea and the best way to learn more about other countries untill you realise that you have to spend a lot of money every time you cross a border to head into another region. Money you would have otherwise spent on several other things on your journey depletes even faster.
We as Africans have made it difficult for our very own people to travel freely through our borders. We have overlooked the spirit of unity and shared economic growth. Instead, we have built several strongholds that keep out those from our neighbouring regions, yet we make it very easy for those from the West to actually traverse through our borders.
What relaxed visa policy means
So what does it mean for a country to have a relaxed visa policy for travellers from across Africa? It means that if you were moving from South Africa to Uganda, you would not need to apply for a visa or you would have to get it upon arrival at the Airport or border. This can be seen when travelling throughout East Africa; if you are Ugandan and headed to Kenya for example, you can easily get a visa stamp upon arrival without paying a fee which is more suitable than applying for one then waiting for a number of weeks after spending a certain amount of money for it to be processed and you find out it was rejected.
Visas are used for different reasons. Whether as a security measure to control the entry and duration of stay for people coming into a country or to limit a visitor’s activities, generate revenue or show reciprocity to match the treatment other countries give to their citizens.
From the World Bank website in 2013: “Visas represent high cost in terms of money and time for the individual applying for visas, as well as missed opportunities for the local service economy and for trade. However, despite several improvements to visa legislations in African countries (such as in Djibouti, Mozambique and Rwanda), many immigration policies no longer respond to the present-day needs of African businesses and citizens…”
The need for African countries to be open to free but regulated travel amongst our countries is as important as the need to trade easily with each other and support the many but different budding economies that have slowly sprouted all over the continent.
Regions with liberal visa policies such as East Africa make it easy for so many Africans to trade, travel and stay in the member countries compared to the other regions on the continent. Yet, it is harder for East Africans to easily access travel permission to the other regions. Take South Africa, for an example. For one to be able to travel from Uganda, you will need evidence of sufficient funds inclusive of bank statements and of course $61 for visa processing payments, which is almost the same as applying for a Schengen visa to Europe.
So why is this so and why do we continue restricting travel amongst us as a continent? Is it worth it?
Stifling tourism growth
Tourism suffers greatly in most of the countries when travelling for foreign visitors is heavily restricted. Seychelles has seen a huge leap in their tourism sector once they implemented the “no-visa policy.” According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the country had over 4.9 million (32.3% of total exports) visitor generated exports in 2014, which is forecast to grow by 6.5% in 2015, and by 5.1% pa, from 2015-2025, to SCR8,670.2 million in 2025 (30.9% of total).
Liberal visa policies do not mean that the countries cannot regulate and supervise the continued travel activities of foreigners going and coming. It is imperative that they do. Regulations are important for the safety of all travellers and the citizens at large, which means that the countries have to train several personnel that will be accorded with the duties of implementing and supervision of the new travel policies.
The writer is the public relations manager at Jumia Travel in Uganda. www.travel.jumia.com is Africa’s No.1 hotel booking website, allowing you to get the best prices for more than 25,000 hotels in Africa and more than 200,000 hotels around the world. Jumia Travel has offices in Lagos, Accra, Dakar, Abidjan, Algiers, Douala, Kampala, Dar Es Salaam, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Porto and Paris.