Kenya’s decision to remove visa restrictions sparks discussions about a borderless Africa


Chart showing the the visa openness by category of the top 20 performing countries. Image from the Africa Visa Openness Index Report 2022.

Kenya has decided to open its doors to all African citizens looking to travel for business purposes. This decision is a step towards fostering economic inclusion on the continent and upholding human rights.

In order to benefit from economic globalization, states have a general interest in fostering cross-border mobility. This is because it permits cross-border trade in products, services, and capital, which promotes economic expansion and progress. However, due to security concerns, most governments are selective in granting visa-free travel. This means that visiting specific nations may be difficult for citizens of certain countries.

Public response to Kenya's decision

Kenya's decision to remove visa restrictions for Africans traveling for business has sparked a range of reactions on Twitter. The majority of respondents have called for a more borderless Africa, praising the Kenyan government for its progressive move and urging other African nations to follow suit.

Some individuals have gone even further, advocating for the complete removal of visa restrictions for all purposes, not just for business. They question why Africans should require visas to visit other African countries when examples like the Schengen Agreement demonstrate the benefits of visa-free travel. These voices argue that a more open approach will enhance trade, economic growth, and unity across the continent.

Twitter users have also referenced the Africa Visa Openness Index Report 2022 from the African Development Bank, which shows that only three countries — Benin, The Gambia, and Seychelles — currently offer visa-free access to all African nationals. The Africa Visa Openness Index (AVOI) measures the extent to which African countries are open to visitors from other African countries. The index analyses each country’s visa requirements to show which countries on the continent facilitate travel to their territory. The 2022 report shows progress in visa openness in Africa, with 10 countries improving their score and exceeding pre-pandemic levels. This statistic reinforces the sentiment that Kenya's decision is a significant step towards greater regional integration and inclusivity.

However, it is important to note that some concerns have been raised regarding potential abuses of this opportunity, particularly by individuals from certain countries where there exists a strong stereotype of criminals and scammers, even if this is not always the case.

These Twitter users suggest that measures should be implemented to prevent the influx of individuals engaging in illegal activities such as drug trafficking and scams. They argue for the need to strike a balance between facilitating open borders and ensuring appropriate checks and controls to maintain security and protect the integrity of the system.

In September 2022, Judicaelle Irakoze, an award-winning Afro-political feminist, ignited a substantial discussion on Twitter by advocating for the abolition of visas for Africans within Africa. Her tweet sparked further deliberation on the topic.

Economic inclusion and human rights

In research conducted by Mathias Czajka and Eric Neumayer on Visa restrictions and economic globalization for the London School of Economics, they say that visa restrictions are most economically harmful to poorer countries. This is because these countries are more reliant on tourism, trade, and foreign investment for economic growth and development. The study also found that some of the deterred flow of tourists, goods and services, and capital are redirected to other visa-free destinations. This means that countries that do not have visa restrictions may benefit from increased tourism, trade, and investment as a result of visa restrictions in other countries. Kenya's decision to open its doors to business persons from Africa aligns with these findings, as it promotes economic inclusion and extends opportunities to individuals of African descent.

The move to welcome African entrepreneurs not only stimulates Kenya's economy but also fosters economic growth and development across the wider African region. By facilitating cross-border trade and encouraging business collaborations, Kenya establishes a network of economic opportunities that can lead to shared prosperity. This approach recognizes that economic development is not a zero-sum game but rather a collective effort that benefits all participants. Consequently, as business people of African descent contribute to Kenya's economy, they also contribute to the advancement of the entire African continent.

In addition to economic benefits, Kenya's decision empowers marginalized communities by providing them with opportunities to establish businesses, create jobs, and improve their economic circumstances. By offering a supportive environment, Kenya enables individuals and communities to break free from cycles of poverty and marginalization, thereby advancing their human rights.

The decision also promotes social cohesion and cultural exchange within Kenyan society by embracing African entrepreneurs. It fosters diversity, understanding, and an appreciation of different cultures, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive and tolerant society. The interactions between Kenyans and African entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds could enrich society, challenge stereotypes, and create a more harmonious social fabric.

Kenya's decision to freely open its gates to business persons of African descent aligns with key principles of human rights — acknowledging the inherent dignity and worth of every individual, regardless of their racial or ethnic background. It demonstrates Kenya's commitment to upholding human rights as enshrined in international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

While these differing opinions exist about Kenya's decision, overall, the response on Twitter indicates strong support for Kenya's decision and the idea of a more borderless Africa. The prevailing sentiment is that removing visa restrictions would not only facilitate travel and trade but also foster unity and cooperation among African nations, leading to enhanced economic growth and development across the continent.

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