This story was originally published by Africa Feeds, and an expanded version is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing partnership agreement.
In 2023, Kenya announced the implementation of a visa-free policy for all visitors to the East African nation. Last week, the policy came into effect, marking Kenya as the first country to implement a visa-free entry scheme for all foreign travelers, regardless of their nationality.
As reported by Citizen Digital, the Kenyan government aimed to stimulate international tourism by removing visa requirements.
Julius Bitok, the immigration principal secretary, expressed optimism about the policy shift, stating, “We have made sure that traveling to Kenya is going to be an easy and pleasant experience. We have been receiving about 2 million tourists per year, but we believe that with this policy shift, the numbers will double, to over 5 million per year.”
As reported by AA news website, Kenya earned USD 1.8 billion in tourism revenue, but officials are targeting an annual revenue of USD 9.5 billion with the latest entry policy.
According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Interior, there have been 9,787 applications, with 4,046 already processed. The statement also highlighted that before the visa-free policy, 51 countries didn't require a visa to enter Kenya, while 155 countries had to apply for a visa.
The recently implemented policy now utilizes a state-of-the-art electronic travel authorization (ETA) system, replacing conventional visas with a streamlined online application process. As per the interior ministry's statement, the ETA is intended to bring about substantial improvements to the travel and transit experience for foreign nationals visiting Kenya. These enhancements include equal treatment and reduced fees, advanced passenger information, decreased processing time, and the establishment of a dedicated ETA desk.
However, the implementation of the policy has faced backlash from several African social media users.
Backlash over implementation
Some individuals, including CNN journalist Larry Madowo, Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin'ono and Malawian entrepreneur Jones Ntaukira, criticized the perceived complexity and inconvenience of the new process.
Larry Madowo pointed out on X (formerly Twitter): “Kenya is now “visa-free” for every human on earth. But you can’t just get on a flight. You have to apply for Electronic Travel Authorization, pay $30 and wait up to 3 days for approval. So, a visa?”
He added that the actual cost of the ETA appears to be $34.09, and the ETA website does not state how much it costs:
The actual cost of the Kenya Electronic Travel Authorization – a visa that is not called a visa – appears to be $34.09.
Weirdly, the ETA website does not state how much it costs. You have to apply to find out 🤦🏾♂️ https://t.co/JKAaIHts7c
— Larry Madowo (@LarryMadowo) January 6, 2024
Hopewell Chin'ono argued that the Kenyan government has made it more difficult for Africans who previously didn't need a visa:
Kenya is not telling the world the truth when it says that it is now visa free, it is not!
It has in fact made traveling there more difficult for Africans who didn’t need a visa before, and I WON’T be going to Kenya unless if it is for work because of its new… pic.twitter.com/pMyukBVqAw
— Hopewell Chin’ono (@daddyhope) January 8, 2024
Jones Ntaukira described the new process as hectic.
So until 24 hours ago, as a Malawian, I could just wake up, buy a ticket and fly to Kenya in the afternoon, visa free. Now Kenya has “removed visa” for everyone visiting Kenya, but now everyone has to pay $30 travel authorization fee 72 hours before travel. What? Hectic
— Jones Ntaukira (@realjonzz) January 7, 2024
In contrast to traditional visa programs with multi-year validity, however, the ETA for Kenya is specific to a single trip, requiring travelers to obtain a new ETA for each visit. Previously, a single-entry visa cost USD 50, while a multiple-entry visa cost USD 100.
There are concerns among Kenyan citizens that the USD 30 ETA fee requirement may lead other African countries, which previously enjoyed unrestricted access to Kenya, to reciprocate with visa restrictions.
Some citizens also worry that the policy could be counterproductive, potentially triggering a boycott by foreigners.
As of now, the Kenyan government has not provided a counter-response to these concerns.