Freetown relaxes visa policy to suit ECOWAS
Sierra Leone under the leadership of President Julius Maada Bio is the latest nation that has adjusted its visa policy to favour countries in Africa and in a special way nations that are members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). As spelt out in the new visa policy, all African nations are entitled to visa-on-arrival, citizens from African Union member nations would have to pay a sum of $25 fee to obtain a visa-on-arrival. However, the story changes for citizens of the West African Bloc-ECOWAS. Being a signatory to the regional organization, the government of Sierra Leone has granted an open visa policy for other ECOWAS member states, implying that nationals from ECOWAS states can freely move in and out of Sierra Leone without being called for questioning. These countries comprise of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Senegal. An official release from Sierra Leonean Ministry of international Affairs reads: “Citizens of ECOWAS states and all other countries with which Sierra Leone has visa-free agreements will continue to enjoy visa-free access”.
Non-African States/bloc under the new visa law
The September 2019 decision to relax the Sierra Leone visa law didn’t only apply to African countries. Other non-African nations and blocs are poised to enjoy the visa on arrival after paying a compulsory fee of $80. Some of them include; the United Kingdom, European Union nationals, United States of America, nationals of Commonwealth member countries, citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council member countries, and citizens of the BRICS countries like South Africa, India, China, Russia and Brazil. The government of Sierra Leone is at the verge of face-lifting Tourism and to attract Direct Foreign Investment. As such, President Maada Bio deemed it necessary to provide a conducive atmosphere for this economic activity that is gaining grounds in the country. In a statement, the country’s minister of Information Mohamed Rahman Swaray noted, “This is an indication that the new direction is poised to take the country to another level and our latest step in making the country attractive to tourists and foreign investors.” According to local reports, Tourism has the potentiality of providing an annual revenue of $100 million.
Over the years, Africa through sub-regional groups or blocs has made strides in ensuring easy movement of its people either for business, diplomatic travels or travels for leisure and discoveries. Apart from ECOWAS that has widely been praised to be the most awakened bloc, East African nations have made laudable progress in ensuring easy circulation among member states of the East African Community. This connectivity is most evident among East African Nations like Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. However, the recent border row between Rwanda and Uganda made life and movement difficult for locals of both nations involved in trade. Efforts are underway to put an end to the stalemate.
Other African nations that have relaxed their visa regimes
Apart from Sierra Leone that has remained the latest among countries with softer visa regimes, other nations have been on the track to opening their countries to other Africa states, promoting continental integration. In August 2016, Benin’s President Patrice Talon, inspired by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, announced that his government was scrapping visa requirements for other African countries. The East African nation of Ethiopia did same in 2018, announcing a visa-free and visa on arrival for all African states. Mauritius, Ghana, Seychelles among others, are some of the African countries, which have relaxed their visa regimes. Zimbabwe for its part announced a visa-on-arrival for all member states of the Southern African Development Community-SADC. According to a 2018 visa openness statistics by the African Development Bank, 75% of countries in the top 20 most visa-open countries are in West Africa or East Africa.
That notwithstanding, Africa has made enormous treads in the past years towards promoting continental (regional) connectivity and integration. As asserted by the African Union Commission and the African Development Bank in a 2018 Africa Visa Openness Index Report, nations are becoming more and more open to others. This is thanks to the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area –AfCFTA and the Lone African Air Transport Market. Also, Africa needs to be together to attain its development agenda in 2063.
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Photo Credit : google image/illustration