Ethiopia and Nigeria have made some interesting announcement this week that makes it feel that the as though the continent is just getting a little closer to being as open to others as it is to its own population. Nigeria announced that it is working towards issuing visas on arrival for all African citizens. While Ethiopia recently announced that it has launched an online platform that allows those looking to travel to the country for tourism to secure an online visa, better known as an e-visa. This past week, it was announced that the e-visas can now be processed for people attending conferences in the country. This is a pretty big deal as securing visas to Ethiopia, especially for conferences, was not exactly an easy process.
So here I was excited that Ethiopia, especially Addis Ababa, is on the path to opening itself up to fellow Africans especially as the diplomatic city of the continent. And then I visited the website. As it turns out, there are 39 countries/nationalities allowed to apply for an e-visa, only three of which are African. To make matters worse, the 2, Kenya and Djibouti, have been exempt of visa requirements based on previous agreements, making South Africans the only Africans eligible to apply for an e-visa to come to Ethiopia. Clearly, we are a long way from where I thought we were.
So, I always ask myself this question: How can we, Africans, trade and do business amongst ourselves if we cannot go to each other’s countries? Many people I meet consider traveling to be a luxury, but it is really not. Traveling is the only way that people can get to know each other, work and build together. Traveling is merely a means to an end, be it to find commerce, land, resources and much more. As we keep pushing the narrative as to how Africans need to solve Africa’s problems, the fact that we are yet to meet at least one person from each country of the continent, compare notes on our lives and culture let alone travel within the continent, is alarming, in 2017!
I still remember the reaction an Ethiopian immigration officer had when my friends traveled to Rwanda, right after Rwanda’s policy of issuing visas on arrival to all African citizens had just come into effect. After being baffled by my Ethiopian passport holding friend’s “claim” that she will get a visa on arrival in Kigali, the immigration officer told her “Why would they do that? That means anyone can just go to their country” and my friend’s reaction was, “exactly, they want people to visit their country”.
When applying for visas, all of the African embassies, similarly to non-African ones, require one to provide personal bank account statements, regardless of who finances the trip. “It is to show that you are attached to your country” they say, each time I ask the question. I remember that during one of my visa application processes, the woman in the consulate office was saying that one has to at least have 60 000 birr, equivalent of 2800 USD at the time, sitting in one’s account otherwise the application will most likely not be granted. When considering the salary scales in the country, that is a hefty amount to just have sitting around, not just for the youth but for the majority of Ethiopians.
In a continent with 54 countries with average population age ranging between 15 and 22 years, we should be encouraging youth to move around in the continent, and not establish impediments to block that. As the young generation comes of age, it is important that our efforts towards solving not only problems in our backyards but also on a continental level be supported by easier access to each other’s countries. We should be encouraging youth to chase solutions and not simply money. In fact, the money lies in finding and working towards our own solutions towards our continent’s issues.
At this point, African country’s visa policies towards the youth are clear: “f you are not rich, do not even think about trying to solve Africa’s problems, stick to your little town”. What a way to waste talent!