Figure of the week: Africa visa openness

Labourers load a three-wheeled vehicle onto the back of a van at the Mercato market in Addis Ababa October 9, 2015. Addis Ababa's 'Mercato' - Italian for 'market' - is reputedly the biggest open-air market in Africa, lying in the west of the capital. Supermarkets have sprouted across the city as the metropolis has expanded with Ethiopia's booming economy, but Mercato remains a popular destination for shoppers seeking clothing, electronics and a huge range of other items. It has been around for as long as the city, which was founded at the end of the 19th century, but it took its current form, and its name, from the Italians who invaded Ethiopia in 1935. The Italian occupation ended in 1941. Picture taken October 9, 2015.    REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri  - GF10000267957

On November 11, the African Development Bank Group released its fourth annual Visa Openness Index Report. The index measures how open African countries are with regards to their visa requirements for citizens of other African countries, and aims to show which countries are facilitating the movement of people between countries, including by allowing other Africans to travel to their country without a visa or with a visa on arrival. The report states that the open movement of people can help bolster interconnectivity, investment, and integration among countries, including through mechanisms such as increased tourism and trade.

Figure 1 shows that African countries have become increasingly, though incrementally, open to visitors from across the continent over the past four years. In 2019, on average, Africans did not need a visa to travel to 25 percent of other African countries, up from 20 percent in 2016. Conversely, in 2019, Africans needed visas to travel to 49 percent of other countries on average, down from 55 percent in 2016. In other words, Africans have “liberal access”—defined as either no visa requirements or availability of a visa on arrival—to 51 percent of the continent.

Figure 1: Change in Visa Openness scores, 2016-2019

Figure 1 Change in Visa Openness scores, 2016-2019Source: Africa Visa Openness Index Report, 2019.

These numbers reflect progress made by a range of African countries and regions, as shown in Figure 2. Of the top 20 most visa-open countries, nine are in East Africa, and seven are in West Africa. North and Central Africa, conversely, lag behind, with one and, actually, no countries in the top 20, respectively. However, several countries from these regions, including Tunisia, Egypt, Gabon, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, and Angola, rank among the countries whose visa openness scores improved the most between 2016 and 2019.

Figure 2: Top 20 most visa-open countries by region, 2019

Figure 2 Change in Visa Openness scores, 2016-2019Source: Africa Visa Openness Index Report, 2019.

The report states that, moving forward, continued improvements in visa openness will be important to capitalize on the gains of the recently launched African Continental Free Trade Area, Single African Air Transport Market, and Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons. For more on the importance of openness between African countries, see The effects of Nigeria’s closed borders on informal trade with Benin by Stephen Golub, Ahmadou Aly Mbaye, and Christina Golubski.