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Pessimism still surrounds the ‘Visa free travel in Africa’ initiative, by Chofor Che, 03 June 2014

03 Jun

Africans especially in the Central African region have always wished to travel visa free. Many argue that if this were possible, it would be a speedy panacea to regional integration. How possible and true is this assertion? I wonder.

The ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative was launched by Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank (ADB), Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya and Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote, during the World Economic Forum on Africa. According to an article by Biztechafrica of May 2014, the idea behind this initiative is to encourage travel across the continent by curbing on visa constraints.

The ADB’s Chief Executive remains optimistic about this initiative. According to him, the ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative will spearhead regional integration across Africa and speed up Africa’s economic development. Kaberuka however opines that African leaders need to take action to make this happen.

There have equally been panel discussions all over the continent to engineer the ‘Visa free travel in Africa’ initiative. During one of such panel discussions in Nigeria, the ADB’s Chief Economist, Mthuli Ncube, encouraged Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa to harness their developmental drive and make speedy growth on the continent a reality especially by ensuring that Africans are able to travel without visa constraints. According to Biztechafrica, this call was made during a panel discussion on ‘Forging Inclusive growth, Creating Jobs’. Ncube’s topic was on, ‘Driving Competitiveness through Cooperation, integration and Economic growth’.

The ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative is a very laudable idea but the continent still faces a lot of challenges especially governance issues. Lack of political will on the part of African leaders remains a gigantic hurdle. This explains why such an initiative is spearheaded by just two African leaders instead by all African leaders. In addition to this, continental bodies like the African Union have not strongly added their voice to the ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative. A scenario such as this makes one to wonder if this is not just brutum fulmen (an empty noise) on the part of Kaberuka, Kagame, Kenyatta and Dangote.

In as much as the ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative is a laudable one, African leaders are still to curb internal barriers in their various states especially barriers to trade and development. If circulating in various African states remain a nightmare, what more of travelling on the continent. Most states especially states in the Central African region cannot even boast of domestic air travel facilities especially infrastructure. Most of the personnel in African states are not trained with state of the art air travel measures especially ways of combating against terrorist activities. Citizens still have to pay exorbitant air port taxes despite having paid heavy visa fees and purchased expensive air tickets. Such impediments affect the ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative’ from transgressing from an ‘initiative stage’ to a ‘reality stage’.

It is thus important for African leaders to bring on board more private actors. True privatisation of the airport sector with minimal control from big governments on the continent can make the ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative a reality and thus speed up Africa’s development. African leaders need to curb internal barriers such as heavy taxes in their various states especially barriers to trade and development. Circulating in various African states should not be a nightmare. Most states especially states in the Central African region need to start rethinking their modus operandi on domestic air travel facilities especially infrastructure. Most airports in states especially in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and the conflict ridden Central African Republic have been abandoned. It is time for most African states to revamp structures in these airports and begin with boasting domestic air travel before thinking of adding their voice to the ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative. Most of the personnel in African states need to be trained with state of the art air travel measures especially ways of combating against terrorist activities. Governments in African states need to also ensure that citizens do not have to pay exorbitant air port taxes especially having paid heavy visa fees and purchased expensive air tickets. If such measures are taken into consideration especially partnering with the private sector, then attaining the ‘Visa free travel Africa’ initiative’ would be possible.

 
 

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