ETHOPIA, Africa — Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, the youngest head of government in Africa, said while speaking at a state banquet held in honour of visiting Rwandan leader, that his country would soon follow Rwanda’s example opening its borders so that all Africans can arrive without prior permission.
The 41 year-old Prime Minister of Ethiopia, took over for replaced Hailemariam Desalegn, who resigned in February. Since Abiy has taken office, he has made a series of bold steps that showcased the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) meant business.
According to the Visa Openness Index, it’s still easier for Americans to travel around Africa than it is for Africans themselves.
Africans still need visas to travel to 55% of other African countries, although visa openness levels have improved from 2015 levels on average.
Africans can get visas on arrival in just 25% of other countries and don’t need a visa at all to travel to just 20% of other countries on the continent.
West African and East African states are leading the index, making up 75% of the top 20 most open countries. Only one North African country made the top 20 while none did from Central Africa.
From January 1st of this year, nationals of all countries received a visa on arrival at Kigali International Airport and all land borders. Fewer visa restrictions will lead to greater intra-African tourism which then boosts the economy of the host country.
“For countries who have either visa-free or visa-on-arrival policies you can see the positive impact on the number of visitors to those countries. Over time, you’ll also see it in the trade figures,” explains Acha Leke, a Director at McKinsey & Company and member of the WEF Global Agenda Council on Africa.
In Rwanda, the abolition of visa requirements for fellow members of the East African Community in 2011 helped increase intraregional tourist numbers from 283,000 in 2010, to 478,000 in 2013.
“Africa still grapples with intra-continental movement issues, which hamper tourism growth. Our governments should liberalize tourism policies through regional cooperation on easing visa restrictions and implementing open sky policies, if we are to move a step ahead globally in terms of tourism prosperity,” said Tokozile Xasa, South Africa’s Minister of Tourism.
The easing of visa restrictions in both Ethiopia and Rwanda could be a first step in promoting greater tourism, and may well encourage other countries to follow suit.