Even with Ian Khama gone, Botswana remains one of the least visa-open countries in Africa.From a total of 54 African countries, Botswana is ranked 31 alongside eSwatini in the latest Africa Visa Openness Index. The latter measures how open African countries are when it comes to visas by looking at what they ask of citizens from other countries in Africa when they travel. The Index aims to show which countries are facilitating travel for citizens of other countries, whether they allow people to travel to their country without a visa, if travellers can get a visa on arrival in the country, or if visitors need to get a visa before travel.Beyond being one of the least visa-open countries, Botswana is in another special category of countries that are doing the least to be more welcoming. The country is not among 21 that have made evisa available; not among the 26 that have ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area and not among 32 countries that have signed the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons. However, it is among 26 that have agreed to join the Single African Air Transport Market. With the exception of Seychelles, Mozambique, Mauritius and Madagascar, most SADC countries are also not as welcoming and for that reason, don’t feature on the list of the top 20 most welcoming. One of Africa’s integration milestones is to open up borders but countries like Botswana that are doing relatively well economically face a peculiar challenge in a continent where most economies have been slumped against the ropes for far too long.
Former president Khama is widely faulted for closing Botswana to the international community and among those who hold that view is his own predecessor, Festus Mogae. Five years ago, Mogae told an American news channel in Tanzania that the “current regime” (meaning Khama’s) was regressive.
“We were a small country that ran an open economy and open society but our present government has expelled over 2000 foreign professionals over the last six years,” he said during an African Leadership Panel hosted by CNBC in Dar es Salam.
Similarly, a Private Sector Development Programme (PSDP) report that analyses Botswana’s tourism value chain has stated that not only was Khama kicking Indians and Chinese out of Botswana, he was also denying them visas to enter the country as tourists. As part of the leg work, the consultants interviewed tourist operators in both Gaborone and Kasane and in the report write that over half the Kasane sample, and a third of the Gaborone sample, indicated that they were difficulties with tourist visas even for people who had booked trips. “Specifically it was noted that Indian and Chinese visitors had been denied visas,” the report says.
In an effort to reverse the latter situation and improve the ease of doing business, Botswana started offering tourist visas at points of entry beginning last month. Business Botswana welcomed this development saying it would promote the tourism sector and boost the business environment.