Kenya’s President William Ruto has announced plans to eliminate visa requirements for all African visitors by the end of the year, stating that visa restrictions among African nations are counterproductive. This decision was revealed during an international conference, where President Ruto emphasized the need to promote visa-free travel within the continent, a long-standing goal of the African Union (AU) over the past decade.
While some regional agreements and bilateral arrangements exist, the progress toward achieving a visa-free continent has been sluggish. A 2022 AU-supported report identified only Seychelles, The Gambia, and Benin as countries allowing entry to all African citizens without a visa. However, the Africa’s Visa Openness Index, which assesses the extent of each African nation’s openness to visitors from other African countries, suggests that most countries are working towards simplifying entry processes and reducing restrictions for citizens of certain nations.
In 2022, Kenya ranked 31st out of 54 African states on the Visa Openness Index. President Ruto, speaking in Congo-Brazzaville during a summit focused on protecting the world’s largest rainforests, stressed the negative impact of visa restrictions on business and entrepreneurship, highlighting that when people cannot travel, it hinders economic development.
He boldly declared, “As Kenya, by the end of this year, no African will be required to have a visa to come to Kenya,” receiving enthusiastic applause from the conference attendees. President Ruto also expressed the importance of not restricting the movement of Africa’s youth within the continent.
The African Union introduced the African passport in 2016, with the aim of enabling unrestricted travel for all African citizens throughout the continent. However, widespread implementation of this passport has faced challenges related to security, smuggling concerns, and potential effects on local employment markets.
If completely eliminating visa restrictions proves too ambitious at present, the Visa Openness Index report suggests alternative measures, including reducing visa fees, standardizing visa-on-arrival procedures for African visitors, and implementing a secure e-visa system.