East Africa’s economic and population giant Ethiopia has long been understood as a country where entry is difficult, especially for journalists, due to various bureaucratic regulations. So when its president, Mulatu Teshome, announced on October 8th that Ethiopia will admit African travellers with a visa-on-arrival scheme this year, it came as a big surprise.
During the opening session of the annual Ethiopian lawmakers’ meeting, Mulatu further stated that the government will do more to accelerate Ethiopia’s move to join the World Trade Organization, another sign that the new leadership under the young and reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who assumed power in April this year, is willing to open up the country even more to the international community.
“The country is doing this in order to contribute its part to the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement,” Mulatu told lawmakers, recalling an African Union agenda that requires all members to allow African travellers to enter their respective countries by issuing a visa-on-arrival by 2023. “Ethiopia, with its swift and modern system, will permit Africans to enter the country by securing a visa upon arrival. The visa on arrival arrangement is designed to facilitate tourism, economic and diplomatic relations. Legal measures will, however, be taken around our borders to sustain peace and development integration.”
Ethiopia has long been flirting with the idea of setting up a visa-on-arrival scheme. The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Fitsum Arega, tweeted a couple of weeks back that, “A relaxed visa regime will enhance both Ethiopia’s openness and will allow the country to harness the significant stopover transit traffic of Fly Ethiopian.”
However, Ethiopia has remained one of the most closed-off nations to date in Africa. Travellers are expected to wait for several days or weeks after making their visa application that goes through various offices and ministries for examination.
But the latest move means that there would be no need for Africans to necessarily apply for visas before flying into the country. Accordingly, all African passport holders need to do is fly in and have their visas stamped on arrival.
The latest pledge by the president of Ethiopia comes just four months after prime minister Abiy announced that the country had started issuing visas online for tourists and other visitors across the world, a service which started on June 1st, 2018.
The move is expected to be widely welcomed as it demonstrates that African countries are beginning to implement the African Union’s 2063 Agenda for “a continent with seamless borders” to facilitate the free movement of citizens.
A 2016 report by the African Development Bank (AfDB) indicated that many countries in Africa remain largely closed off to local travellers. According to the report, on average Africans need visas to travel to 55% of other African countries, can obtain visas on arrival in only 25% of other countries and can enjoy visa-free travel to just 20% of other countries on the continent.
“Opening up a country’s visa regime is a quick-win on development that remains untapped,” says Moono Mupotola, Director of NEPAD, Regional Integration and Trade at the African Development Bank. “Visa openness promotes talent mobility and business opportunities. Africa’s leaders and policymakers have a key role to play in helping Africans to move freely in support of Agenda 2063’s call to abolish visa requirements for all Africans by 2018.”
“Currently, 75% of countries in the top 20 most visa-open countries on the continent are in West Africa or East Africa. Only one country in the top 20 is in North Africa and there are none in the top 20 from Central Africa,” the report says, adding that Africa’s Middle Income Countries have low visa-openness scores overall, while the continent’s smaller, landlocked and island states are more open.
On a country level, the Seychelles is ranked number one in Africa for its visa openness policy, offering visa-free access for all Africans. Mauritius and Rwanda, who are in the top 10 most visa-open countries, have adopted open visa policies for visitors from other African countries and have seen a major impact on tourism, investment and economic competitiveness as a result.