Revered Bissau-Guinean development economist Dr Carlos Lopes was among high-profile personalities to laud Namibia for her decision to do away with visa requirements for Africans visiting the country.
This is welcome news for travellers, especially leisure tourists who contribute a whopping N$7.2 billion to Namibia’s GDP annually.
The African Union’s Agenda 2063, championed by former AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, calls for the scrapping of visa requirements for all African citizens travelling on the continent by 2018.
In fact Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a candidate to succeed her ex-husband Jacob Zuma to become South Africa’s next head of state, had already congratulated Namibia last year when it came to light that the country was planning to scrap African visas.
The African passport was already launched last year at the AU summit in Kigali, Rwanda and it is good that Namibia is among nations that have taken the lead in liberalising entry requirements.
This is testimony that the country is committed to fully support the vision of an Africa where its citizens can move more freely across national borders, where intra-Africa trade is encouraged and there is greater integration and development of the continent. Similar sentiments were echoed by South Africa, which has the same intention.
Currently, on average Africans need visas to travel to 55 percent of other African countries. They can get visas on arrival in only 25 percent of other countries, and only 20 percent of African countries do not need require a visa to cross onto their territories. Essentially, the continent is lacking.
Domestically, the move has countless windfalls too. With a population of only 2.4 million people, Namibia can benefit from having Africans coming into the country in good numbers. While they are here for those 90 or less days, the travellers would be boosting our GDP by spending on accommodation, transport and food, amongst others.
Namibia has for years rated badly on the ‘ease of doing business’ index, a situation made worse by the unnecessarily bureaucratic immigration processes. The world over, nations – even developed ones such as Canada and Australia – have relaxed their visa requirements to help boost their domestic economies.
Australia specifically said it wanted to attract skills into the country, but without compromising opportunities for its citizens. Its visa regime was revised to specifically recruit the best and “the brightest in the national interest”.
Our population is too small to stimulate necessary growth of the economy. Government is already planning to counter the effect of this by making the country the preferred entry point to the 300 million people in SADC region. Scrapping visa requirements would therefore aid these efforts and boost the successful implementation.
Along with travel taxes, the costs and difficulties associated with visa applications are probably the main bugbear of the international travel industry. Visa expenses, and the frequent requirement to apply in person at offices that can be hundreds or even thousands of miles from where the potential traveller lives, act as a severe deterrent to travel to some countries.
While the visa-free travel proposal represents both challenges and opportunities for the security and economy of Namibia, previous examples by regional communities and individual countries suggest the benefits will outweigh the risks.
As the plan moves from policy to implementation, the African common visa policy has the potential to impart substantial economic incentives through the removal of trade barriers, increased tourism and investment opportunities, and job creation.