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Africa enters into multi-country visa regime

IN a move inspired by Europe’s Schengen Visa, African nations are expanding their regional visa programs to streamline multi-country travel experiences.

AFRICA is moving towards a multi-country visa system, with individual countries and regional blocs working to remove their borders to promote intra-Africa tourism.

Southern African countries are the latest to signal their intent to allow tourists to explore more diverse offerings across multiple destinations using a single visa.

Leaders from Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, which comprise the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) Transfrontier Conservation Area, have expressed their intention to expand the application of their unified visa- currently under pilot in two countries.

The Univisa program, which began pilots in Zambia and Zimbabwe as ‘KAZA visa’ in 2014, has had limited forays in Botswana. The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) backed initiative is now set to expand to the rest of the regional bloc.

During the KAZA heads of state summit in Livingstone, Zambia in May, regional leaders confirmed their dedication to extending the ‘Univisa’ to additional member states and the broader Southern African economic bloc.

Zambia’s President, Hakainde Hichilema, said SADC could leverage existing protocols in Zambia and Zimbabwe, avoiding the need to start from scratch to implement the multi-country visa.

“We must simply say this will happen, the presidents are here. When the KAZA visa is working, why not roll it out in the SADC region? It will deliver the same benefits we intended to deliver in the five KAZA member states,” said Hichilema.

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Vice-President of Botswana, Slumber Tsogwane, said, “I don’t know why we are behind on Univisa. When I inform the president, it will be done like yesterday.”

Namibian President, Dr. Nangolo Mbumba, said, “Namibia remains committed to our shared vision on the development of KAZA,” as Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa affirmed, “Zimbabwe stands ready to support and play its part for the success of uture and ongoing TFCA programs.”

The KAZA Univisa costs US$50 and allows tourists to obtain one visa to visit both countries multiple times with a visa validity period of up to 30 days.

In the West Africa region, efforts are being made towards the full implementation of ECOVISA, which aims to allow visitors from outside The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to travel to all of the bloc’s member states.

The Seventh ECOWAS Heads of Immigration meeting in May 2023 recommended conducting a comparative analysis of visa regimes in other continents to ensure that the ECOVISA aligns with global best practices.

This analysis they said is crucial for designing the visa, determining the visa regime, considering visa costs, and addressing other technical requirements essential for the smooth implementation of ECOVISA.

Since the start of the Implementation of ECOVISA in 2011, ECOWAS member countries have made substantial progress in Africa visa openness, demonstrating the increasing significance of the multi-country visa regime in Africa.

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The African Development Bank’s 2023 Africa Visa Openness Index (AVOI) shows that seven of the top 10 performers in 2023 are part of ECOWAS, with Benin and The Gambia ranking among the top four performers. Both countries have fully liberalized their visa regime.

ECOWAS also maintains the highest visa-free reciprocity rate among its member states, with citizens able to enter 97% of all country destinations within ECOWAS visa-free. Moreover, citizens of ECOWAS member states’ host countries can do the same, underlining ECOWAS’s leadership in visa-free reciprocity.

This places ECOWAS significantly ahead of the East African Community (EAC), the continent’s runner-up, where visa-free reciprocity is at 71%

“The 97% figure for ECOWAS reflects the fact that the citizens of 10 of ECOWAS’s 15 member states do not require a visa to visit the territory of any other ECOWAS member, while the citizens of the remaining five states only need a visa to visit some countries within ECOWAS,” according to the Index.

The East African Community has also been making efforts to have this Europe’s Schengen-style of visa for its 8-member states. However, currently, the common visa has been adopted by Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda only.

The Schengen area includes 29 European countries that have eliminated border controls between each other, allowing non-EU nationals to visit any of these countries for up to 90 days within a 180-day period without needing a separate visa for each country.

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Rwanda joined Africa’s top 10 nations with the most open visa regime in 2023 after abolishing visa requirements for all African citizens. Kenya has also followed this direction in 2024, all of which are expected to bolster tourism and trade on the continent.

By CONRAD ONYANGO, BIRD STORY AGENCY

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