I have often wondered why Africans pay so much for visa but rarely ask others to reciprocate. Currently, the relationship between visa fees and geographic area is not balanced or fair. Whilst Africans face many loopholes and pay the most to visit the Global North, the Global North face the least loopholes and pay the least to visit African nations. It places undue burden s on Africans and creates unnecessary privileges for non-Africans.
The Global North places the most stringent visa fees on citizens of African nations. Visiting countries in the Global North typically requires Africans to pay hefty fees ranging from $150-$200. These fees are often in excess of a month’s salary of average African nationals. The latest assault on Africans is the UK scheme to make Nigerians and Ghanians pay a bond deposit of 3,000 pounds ($4,616) prior to their visit to their country. The Global North increases these types of fees frequently under the guise of discouraging illegal immigration or “administrative costs”. Although “administrative costs” may often be stated as the reason for the high fees, there are other reasons for this.
Simply stated, they serves to discourage poor Africans from visiting countries in the Global North and they serves as an easy way for these countries to make money. On the other hand, visitors from the Global North often travel to Africa and don’t have to pay a visa fee at all or are only required to pay if they stay over a specified time length. African governments should be more diligent about reciprocating these visa fees. Visa fees are an easy way for a country to earn foreign exchange.
The money for the fees can be used to help employees at the airports gain better wages, maintain and upgrade airports, mitigate the effects of the environmental damage of tourism or be used in other areas. They can also deter non-African governments from raising their visa fees to high because they may fear a reciprocal raise for their own nationals. Lastly, they help maintain a level playing field in travel, tourism and diplomacy. In brief, there are more advantages to having reciprocal visa fees then waiving them.
Arguments for Visa Fees
African proponents that favor wavering visa /visa fee requirements for nationals from the Global North usually argue that having no visa fees encourages tourism and trade. However, there is little evidence of this because typically thorough market studies are not conducted. In fact, one can equally argue that visitors from the Global North coming to one’s country will not deter them from visiting.
When visitors have made a commitment to pay over $1000 to travel to African nations an extra $50, $100 or even $200 will not stop them from coming. This includes private tourists, non-profit workers, volunteers, or business people. For business travelers including non-profit) many of these visa fees are already included in to their budgets, absorbed in their overhead costs, or written-off on their taxes or paid by their corporate offices.
Private tourists who come to African nations are often there for emotive or personal reasons and the visa fee will probably not factor in to their decision. There is simply little justification for not reciprocating visa fees. It will not deter visitors, business travelers or sour diplomatic relations with other nations. In fact, diplomatic protocol requires it.
Diplomatic Law & Reciprocity
Diplomatic law governs diplomatic missions and protocols. A key element of diplomatic law is the concept of diplomatic reciprocity which is typically strictly followed. As an example, if one expels an ambassador from one’s country, then diplomatic reciprocity requires that that country expels their ambassador as well. These same rules should apply in visa protocols as well. We saw this played out in 2004 between Brazil and USA. When the USA began to require that all Brazilians get photographed upon arrival at a US airport, Brazil reciprocated by requiring all US citizens visiting Brazil should be photographed at Brazilians too. Brazil currently requires that all US citizens have visa because of diplomatic reciprocity.
The diplomatic concept of ‘reciprocity seems to be lost in the case of African visa requirements for some nations. In March 2006, the UK changed its visa requirements and began requiring Malawians to obtain visas, they waived visa fees for some European countries like Croatia. Malawi did not reciprocate by imposing new fees on the UK. Currently UK nationals can stay in Malawi visa-free for up to 90 days. Additionally, Malawians were now essentially making up for the potential ‘shortfall’ in the money the UK would otherwise have collected from other European nationals.
Current Visa Requirements:
Across the continent visa fees and visa requirements vary by country. Typically, they range from $20 to $150. Countries where all visitors regardless of nationality need to pay for visas include Burundi, Benin, Chad, Comoros, Congo, DROC, Djibouti, Equatorial, Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau and Ivory Coast. Some countries have similar requirements but list some few exceptions for certain states. As an example, Madagascar requires visas for all visitors but they do not charge a fee for it. Eritrea requires visa for all visitors except those from except Kenya and Uganda. Likewise, Ethiopia requires visitors for all visitors except for those from Kenya and Djibouti.
In some African countries, certain regional blocs receive preferences and have had their visas waived. The ECOWAS member states have visa requirements that favor the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regions. As an example, Liberia, Burkino Faso and Nigeria require visas and a visa fee for all visitors except nationals of ECOWAS countries. Cape Verde and Mali has similar stipulations that favor ECOWAS but they also include select countries. Gambia also makes regional bloc distinctions by waiving visa fees for all ECOWAS countries.
However, Gambia also includes all Commonwealth countries, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden less if they are staying for less than 90 days. Libya has been very strategic in its visa requirements – all countries except Arab and African countries need visas. This is a requirement that favors both African and Arab nations which Libyans identify with.
For many other African nations, their visa requirements do not provide any overarching strategic regional preferences. Most likely, these requirements are set at the individual level. In Cameroon, all nationalities need a visa except those from Chad, Central African Republic, Mali and Nigeria. Angola requires visas requires a visa for all except Namibians. All need visas for Algeria except Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen. .
Many countries in Africa still have very relaxed visa policies that seem to favor the Global North. This includes countries such as Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Botswana, Senegal, South Africa and Namibia. Most visitors from America and the EU may visit these countries without paying a visa if they are staying less than 30 or 90 days respectively. (See: List of Countries where US citizens do not require visas).
Other countries operate similarly except they require citizens from the Global North to obtain a visa on arrival at the airport with minimal fees ($15-$25 – an amount that is negligible compared to the $200 that Africans get charged). In brief, African nations should reciprocate visa charges imposed by the Global North in order to gain revenue and meet their administrative costs. They should also make visa requirements that provide advantages for African nationals to encourage inter-regional relations.
Towards a New African Visa Structures
The general rule for African nations should be quite simple; the visa system in Africa for Africans should be built in a way that favors African countries. Ideally, there should be no visa fee requirements for nationals from any African country or a visa/visa fee requirement should be waived for a specified period. The example of Libya is a model that other African nations should follow. It is more consistent with the idea of reciprocity. Libya does not require any African national to pay a visa fee but tourists from Europe, USA and South America require visas. Many ECOWAS countries have taken a step in this direction as well by requiring visas for all but ECOWAS countries.
Another model that African nations should consider is to have a visa fee free system that favors other African nations plus the African Diaspora nations. In other words, countries with a large African Diaspora such as Caribbean nations should not need to pay a visa to visit African countries. This list can be expanded to include majority African descendant countries such as Brazil, Guyana and Colombia.
This will benefit tourism and interaction from these countries whose citizens earn less income but have a historical link to the continent. Most importantly, the visa structure for African nations should make it easier, not harder for Africans and their descendants to travel within the continent.
Africans need to protect their own interests when it comes to issuing travel visas and accepting any and all visitors. Not all visitors to the continent come with good intentions. Africa receives its fair share of visitors from the Global North that are criminals escaping prosecution in their own countries, representatives from fake NGOs, fraudulent business people and the like. African nations need a system that also looks after African interests.Currently, the visa structure in the Global North serves to privilege those in the Global North and places undue hardship on African and poor nations. It is important that African nations do not do the mimic this under the guise of tourism. African nations should revisit their visa policies so that they do not unnecessarily privilege the Global North and unnecessarily disadvantage African or poor nations.