Kenya is taking a major step ahead in boosting intra-African trade by removing visa requirements for African nationals visiting the country for business.
On Monday, President William Ruto issued an apology for the prior visa requirements. He also declared his commitment to removing any impediment to the movement of people in Africa.
The effort to integrate Africa kicked off during the rule of former President Uhuru Kenyatta. In 2017, Kenyatta allowed Africans visiting the country to receive a visa on arrival. President Ruto’s speech at Monday’s African Continental Free Trade Area forum in Nairobi is a much-needed addition to this policy.
The president further explained his vision on the matter using a human evolution story in Turkana, Kenya. He said: “When one comes home, they don’t pay to come home. I want to promise you that this might be the last time you are looking for a visa to come to Kenya because of two reasons. Number one, because this is home and number two, we wholeheartedly support the AfCFTA. We must remove any impediments to the movement of people around our continent.”
The plans to remove visa requirements for trade purposes are likely to go a long way in paving the way for a streamlined intra-Africa trade across the continent. It is apparent from President Ruto’s speech that Kenya is taking a robust stance in providing the trade route for the African continent.
This new policy is sure to benefit not only traders from different African countries but also the continent at large. The removal of visa requirements will improve connectivity and open up business opportunities for entrepreneurs. It will also allow governments to invest in cross-border infrastructure projects which are needed to facilitate trade between Africa countries.
Rwanda and Kenya have recently established themselves as pioneers of pan-Africanism with their idea of free movement of citizens across African countries. In November 2017, Kenya adopted a policy of pan-Africanism with Chief Guest Uhuru Kenyatta asserting that such a move will promote appreciation and integration of their diversity. Two years prior, Rwanda had issued a similar directive without requiring reciprocity from other countries.
This initiative, which is being seen as the establishment of a formal Liberalisation of Movement between African countries, was reinforced with the launch of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on the 1st of January 2021. This agreement has been developed to promote the movement of goods under preferential trading, and its pilot phase was implemented with 8 countries, including Rwanda and Kenya.
This initiative by African countries was born out of their effort to improve their trading systems and create their own flow of income, with Africa currently importing more goods than it does export. It is undeniable that this initiative serves as a progressive step towards the Indian Ocean region being unified under the same economic and political objectives, and further cements the African Union’s goal to achieve the African Economic Community.
The collaborative spirit amongst Rwanda and Kenya, two African countries, has spurred more countries to follow in their steps, making the dream of free movement within African countries a reality. All African countries, regardless of political and economic divisions, can now benefit from the free movement of goods and people while also being able to participate in creating and consolidating the objectives and goals of the African Union.
These two forces, of pan-Africanism and free trade, have been able to combine and act as a driving force for Africa’s progress. It is preserving old ideas of African solidarity, as well as developing new ones. Through the AfCFTA, it will not only make Africa more resilient, but it will also open more opportunities for the continent to reap the benefits of free trade and the movement of goods and people.
Africa’s transport networks have become increasingly under-developed in recent years, creating a number of significant obstacles for its economy. These transportation networks have been blamed for raising the cost of goods and services across the continent, with estimates from the World Bank indicating that these costs can increase up to 40 percent, making intra-African trade highly uncompetitive when compared to other continents such as Europe.
The issue of transportation has been particularly highlighted by cases of goods having taken an excessive amount of time to reach their final destination. For instance, the first consignment of Kenyan value-added tea to Ghana which was sent out last October only reached the Port of Tema in February this year, an example of the serious infrastructural issues that many within Africa are facing in terms of transportation.
The Deputy President of Kenya, Dr. William Ruto, spoke on the issue, noting that “small, incremental” issues such as “weak transport and logistics capacity, customs related delays, rules of origin, import bans and export restrictions, quotas and levies, technical barriers, import permits and licences” must be taken seriously in order to progress towards an effective free trade area. According to investigations, Africa’s share of Kenya’s total trade value in 2022 actually remained virtually unchanged from the prior year, amounting to 18.49 percent or around 622.56 billion Shillings.
In order for Africa to overcome the challenges of intra-trade, immediate investments into transportation networks need to be made. Expanding and improving existing infrastructure would greatly boost efficiency and reduce the current issues of high prices and delayed shipments. To this end, the African Union is investing heavily in improving transportation networks across the continent, including over 450 kilometre’s worth of roads, twenty railway projects and several other transportation networks.