Saturday, January 22, 2022

Botswana in no rush to throw open its borders to other Africans

Ordinarily high-scoring Botswana is lagging far, far behind in a continental race to open up borders. The 2021 Africa Visa Openness Index (AVOI) puts Botswana at position 30 in a field of 54 competitors.

The AVOI measures the extent to which African countries are open to visitors from other African countries. It analyzes each country’s visa requirements to show which countries on the continent facilitate travel to their territory. The score ranges from 0 to 1 and Botswana scored 0.321. Botswana shares its score and position with Eswatini and South Africa but beat Angola (0.294), Lesotho (0.302). The best performer in SADC is Mauritius which got position 13 with a score of 0.826. The most visa-open countries in Southern Africa are Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique and Namibia and the ones that progressed the most in the last five years are Angola, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Visa-openness is part of continental effort to promote trade between African countries. Such effort has been formalised through the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) which Botswana signed in 2019. That Botswana was the 51st country to sign what forms the largest regional free trade area in the world and that it has yet to ratify the agreement is very telling of the speed at which the country is moving. Trading under the AfCFTA Agreement began on January 1 this year after delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

AfCFTA carries both promise and peril. In order to take full advantage of it, Africans must be able to move freely across the continent. However, such movement would place heavy and costly burden on countries which, like Botswana, are doing relatively well economically. The end result would be that while people from countries whose economies are sluggish get to move freely in and out of Botswana to do business, the reverse wouldn’t be possible.

Botswana’s publicly reported visa “scandal” relates to a 2014 incident that Sunday Standard related. Botswana controversially denied Africa’s richest person, Aliko Dangote, a visa to enter the country. Apparently, his intention was to explore the possibility of setting up a cement plant in the country. Denied entry but still keen on establishing his presence in Southern Africa, Dangote ended up setting up the plant in Zambia.

Data for this year’s edition was collected between June and July 2021. The main sources of information were the International Air Transport Association and countries’ official websites. The data shows that openness levels dropped slightly in 2021, after some governments temporarily reversed their liberal visa regime partly in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic and largely to respond to recent instability in their countries.

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