WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR AFRICANS TO VISIT OTHER AFRICAN COUN­TRIES?

Observer on Saturday - - News - Sto­ries by Larry Mad­owo BBC Africa Busi­ness Ed­i­tor

Africa's rich­est man Aliko Dan­gote has said he needs 38 visas to travel within the con­ti­nent on his Nige­rian pass­port. Many Euro­pean na­tion­als, mean­while, waltz into most Africans coun­tries visa-free.

African na­tions were sup­posed to scrap visa re­quire­ments for all African cit­i­zens by 2018.

It was a key part of the African Union (AU) "vi­sion and roadmap for the next 50 years" that was adopted by all mem­bers states in 2013.

But to date, the Sey­chelles is the only na­tion where visa-free travel is open to all Africans - as well as to cit­i­zens of ev­ery na­tion - as it al­ways has been.

A re­cent AU re­port found that Africans can travel with­out a visa to just 22 per cent of other African coun­tries.

It is a sen­si­tive topic, pro­vok­ing xeno­pho­bic at­ti­tudes in some of Africa's wealth­ier na­tions de­spite pol­i­cy­mak­ers from Cape to Cairo in­sist­ing that the free move­ment of peo­ple is key for eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion.

"Our lead­ers seem to go to ridicu­lous lengths to pre­serve and pro­tect the colo­nial bor­ders," says South African travel blog­ger Katchie Nzama, who has vis­ited 35 of Africa's 55 coun­tries.

The AU may want a border­less con­ti­nent where its 1.2 bil­lion peo­ple can move freely be­tween na­tions, sim­i­lar to the Euro­pean Union, but it seems there is no short­age of ob­sta­cles.

Whether it is im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials in Burk­ina Faso charg­ing an ar­bi­trary $200 (£155) for a visa on ar­rival, or Tan­za­nia ar­rest­ing and de­port­ing other East Africans who en­ter il­le­gally, or Tu­nisia re­fus­ing visas to stranded African pas­sen­gers af­ter a can­celled flight, in­traAfrican travel is fraught with sus­pi­cion.

Dou­ble stan­dards?

South Africa ap­pears to be the most vis­i­ble rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the con­ti­nent's visa dou­ble stan­dard, re­main­ing largely closed to other Africans but more wel­com­ing to the wider world.

Cit­i­zens of only 15 African na­tions can travel to South Africa with­out a visa, yet hold­ers of 28 dif­fer­ent Euro­pean pass­ports can en­ter the coun­try freely.

The coun­try's De­part­ment of Home Af­fairs spokesman Thabo Mok­gola de­fends its pol­icy.

"This is an un­fair as­ser­tion - vi­sawaiver agree­ments are premised on rec­i­proc­ity and we are fi­nal­is­ing such with a num­ber of African coun­tries," he told the BBC.

Just how that rec­i­proc­ity is ap­plied is un­clear.

Kenya, for ex­am­ple, gives South African cit­i­zens a visa on ar­rival for free. But Kenyans must ap­ply for a visa, then pay a ser­vice fee and wait for at least five work­ing days be­fore trav­el­ling to South Africa.

In 2015, two years af­ter the African Union asked mem­bers to com­mit to abol­ish­ing visa re­quire­ments for all Africans by 2018, South Africa did the op­po­site and an­nounced stricter reg­u­la­tions that were widely crit­i­cised.

Hit by a re­ces­sion and a drop in tourist num­bers, the coun­try caved in and re­cently an­nounced that it was re­lax­ing travel rules in the hope of re­viv­ing its strug­gling econ­omy.

VISAS: Africa's rich­est man Aliko Dan­gote.

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