June, 2024

Intra-African travel continues to increase as more African countries lift visa restrictions on travel in favour of nationals of other African countries. While there are visa-free travel arrangements for citizens of the various regional blocs, such as ECOWAS, only few countries have opened their borders to citizens from other African countries outside their regional blocs. Thus, the move by some African countries to allow visa-free movement of nationals outside their regional blocs highlights a positive development in the last few years as easy movement of persons, goods and services among African countries facilitates trade and investment and thereby opens the African continent up to new opportunities. The low rate of Intra-African travel has been largely attributed to stringent visa entry requirements among others.

Visa restrictions may be imposed for a number of reasons, including strained relations between governments, international pressure, political, developmental and economic reasons. While the existence of such restrictions may connote a poor political relationship, it is obvious that countries tend to grant visa-free access to their allies and close trading partners, such as exists between the USA and UK and other western countries. These restrictions on free movement of goods and services impact trade and foreign direct investment. Therefore, easing of visa restrictions is often a first step to improving relationships between countries resulting in improvement in trade and investment between the two nations.

The need to remove travel barriers among African countries has become even more compelling following the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which seeks to transform the continent into the world’s largest free trade area. Without free movement of people, the objectives of the AfCFTA may prove difficult to attain. There have been a number of research papers in the past that have sought to calculate the monetary effect that visa restrictions may have on free trade. Neumayer (2010 & 2011)[1] provide evidence which suggests that visa restrictions may decrease travel between 52 and 63%, bilateral trade by 21%, and foreign direct investment by 32%. Another paper by Lawson and Roychoudhury (2016)[2] also estimates an even higher effect on tourism, a decrease of around 70%.

African trade has been dominated by the export of commodities outside of the continent, from cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, to petroleum in Angola, and lithium in the Congo and less intra-trading among African nations. This history, stretching to the years of colonialism, led to the desire by African nations to accelerate trade amongst themselves, which culminated in the creation of the AfCTA. The new paradigm for the AfCFTA thus focuses on Trade, Investments and Intellectual Property. Tourism, which has also been a key sector of some African economies, will also benefit greatly from the AfCFTA initiative.

To leverage on the advantages of AfCFTA, some African countries have taken the lead to eliminate trade barriers, by offering visa-free travel to citizens from other African countries. Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa have all announced visa-free entry requirements for citizens travelling from other African Countries.

The requirement for a visa to enable one travel across the continent poses a serious impediment to trade and investment in many ways. Visa restrictions raise travel and transaction costs due to extensive and complex visa requirements that may require the need of travel consultants by an intending traveller, inability to travel at a moment’s notice in urgent cases, difficulty and uncertainty in planning trips well ahead of time, etc. Apart from the fact that these restrictions will add another risk layer for a potential investor, the likelihood of being denied an entry visa and the inordinate delays in visa acquisition not only disincentivizes trade and investment but does not augur well for impromptu travel decisions that may be mandatory to safeguard an investment.

International trade and foreign investment require a level of personal contact between trading partners. While technological advancement has allowed for trade and other transactions to be carried out through technological platforms, the traditional form of engaging in personal negotiation still plays a vital role in international business relationships. Travel also creates the opportunities for the discovery of potential economic and business opportunities. A restriction on travel will therefore minimise the possibility of discovering new business opportunities. A more liberal visa policy would help poorer countries be more involved in the globalisation agenda with its attendant benefits. Globalisation is a broad process that links social, cultural, and economic developments across borders. Developments in technology and competition in the market have reduced the costs of air travel and transportation between countries, and coupled with the increasing push to open up airports and direct flights between nations in Africa, this will greatly expand the opportunities for business, trade, investment and tourism. Tourism is currently the world’s tenth largest industry and as such, eliminating visa restrictions will bring significant gains to tourism in Africa. While statistics on the impact of visa restrictions on various sectors of the economy may not be readily available, it is clear that such restrictions have a negative effect on trade, foreign direct investment, and most certainly tourism.

It is important therefore for Africa to chart a path of free travel among its people from various states. This would not only boost tourism, trade, and investment in the continent, it will also foster greater relationships and lasting partnerships among countries in an age where cooperation is pivotal to the development and growth of the African economy. Over the years, the framework for visa-free travel has been put in place by the continent’s regional organisations such as ECOWAS and free migration of people between the states is simply the next logical step. While there may exist some level of apprehension about the impact of visa-free policies, such as the ‘importation’ of crime or diseases or the possibility of indigenes losing out on job opportunities, the benefits associated with free migration outweighs these risks.


For the figures on effects of visas:



[1] Neumayer, E. (2010). Visa restrictions and bilateral travel, The Professional Geographer, 62 (2), pp. 1-11.

Neumayer, E. (2011) “On the detrimental impact of visa restrictions on bilateral trade and foreign direct investment.” Applied Geography 31(3): 901-907.

[2] Lawson, R.A., Roychoudhury, S. Do travel visa requirements impede tourist travel? J Econ Finan 40, 817–828 (2016)


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