This is an extract from the second edition of the Africa Regional Integration Index 2019 published by the AUC, ECA and AfDB in May 2020 which helps to track progress and identify integration priorities Africa-wide. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Index findings serve to underline the importance of integration in building more resilient economies to withstand wider systemic shocks.

The 2019 Index provides up-to-date data to assess the level of integration for Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and member countries, and is scored across five key dimensions spanning trade, productive capacity, macroeconomic policy, infrastructure, and the free movement of people. 

On the free movement of people, the Africa Regional Integration Index measures the degree to which African countries have committed to the Protocol on the Free Movement of People, Rights of Residence and Establishment, alongside the openness of countries’ visa regimes.

The Index sets out how putting in place the Protocol will allow African workers, students, researchers and border residents to move freely between signatory states. In turn, it points to how welcoming visa policies will translate to more business, investment and innovation. 

The report also highlights how greater openness will make it possible to scale up local ventures, build economies of scale and develop efficient regional and global value chains. In addition, it showcases how digital technology plays a role in streamlining entry processes making it possible for more students, traders, and residents to travel, exchange knowledge and build new markets.

Regional Integration highlights

·       ‘Free movement of people’ performs the strongest across the five key 

Africa Regional Integration Index recommendations:

• Implementation of the Protocol on the Free Movement of People, which will enhance economic growth and allow firms to find skills more easily, in turn driving productivity.

• Greater visa openness with the goal of a visa-free regime for all African citizens and use of the African passport.

• More regional cooperation on the freedom of movement among Regional Economic Communities (RECs). Visa openness solutions include issuing multi-year visas and creating visa-free regional blocs.

Travel, tourism and investment in Africa

In 2020, the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has sent shockwaves across health systems and economies across the African continent, upending travel, tourism and investment.

In 2019, travel and tourism in Africa had a 2.2% growth rate, contributing USD 168.5 billion to GDP and supporting 24.6 million jobs.12 Yet over the course of 2020, the backdrop to travel and leisure changed radically as governments put in place measures to control the spread of the disease. These approaches, in Africa and elsewhere, ranged from bans on international travel through to targeted bans, and screening and quarantine requirements for travellers.

Alongside a 95% fall in international traffic in July, Africa’s hotels saw occupancy fall by 73%, witnessing a loss of 18 million international arrivals year-on-year through June.14 To bounce back, the travel and tourism sector Africa-wide has worked hard to adapt and meet global protocols and guidelines, including through the display of the World Travel & Tourism Council’s ‘Safe Travel’ stamp, which features in 13 African countries or sub- regions.

 At the same time, there has been a growing focus for the leisure industry on championing regional as well as domestic tourism in Africa.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) to the continent rose in recent years having picked up by 10.9% in 2018, reaching USD 45.9 billion and moving to an estimated USD 49 billion in 2019.

As a result of fallout from the pandemic and the uncertain climate for investors, FDI flows to Africa are due to fall in 2020, with investments either reduced or postponed. Securing renewed confidence will be critical and there is hope that increased, decisive investment can channel economic recovery as highlighted by partners of the Africa Investment Forum.

In turn, the move to start trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area in 2021, and expected finalization of its investment protocol, offers renewed possibilities for growth.

Visa openness in Africa

Border restrictions

·       26 destinations in Africa had eased restrictions by 1 September 2020, while borders in 27 destinations remained closed.

As close to half of African destinations ease travel restrictions in line with plans to manage the pandemic, the topic of travel remains foremost in policy makers’ and people’s minds. Safety and security are critical factors in decision-making when it comes to the opening up of borders, and updated government measures have been rolled out for visitors in the region.

At the same time, however, with GDP in Africa projected to contract by between 1.7% to 3.4% in 202021 and African economies due to enter a recession losing up to USD 212 billion dollars, 22 countries need to adopt a resilient recovery plan to withstand the systemic shocks.

Once restrictions ease, allowing people to move freely across the continent can make a significant impact in reviving key sectors of the economy, from tourism to investment. Countries that relaxed visa regimes and adopted visa-free and visa-on-arrival policies have seen economic benefits in recent years, attracting growing numbers of business and leisure travellers. This is the approach recently adopted by small as well as large economies on the continent – from The Gambia to Nigeria – that moved to open up to African visitors.

The latest trends show a rapid growth in the use of smart electronic solutions when it comes to travel on the continent, with a 167% increase in eVisas across Africa in the last five years. Going digital and using cutting-edge technology, including biometrics, to speed up and secure entry for visitors will play a key role as countries respond to a changing travel climate.

Visa openness findings, 2020

The 2020 Visa Openness Index shows that African borders are increasingly opening up to African citizens, as year-on-year progress is made to support the freer movement of people.

African travellers have liberal access to travel to a record 54% of the continent, up by 9% since 2016, and can travel visa-free or get a visa on arrival in their destination. At the same time, fewer African countries are requesting visitors to have a visa prior to travel.

Three African countries now offer visa-free access to all African visitors. The Gambia joins Seychelles and Benin at the top of the 2020 Index, having removed the need for any visa.

The number of countries on the continent offering eVisas for African travellers also continues to rise, with 44% of countries hosting an online platform, up from 17% in 2016. Most eVisa countries are either in the top scoring countries on the Index or have made the most progress on the Index, and have introduced their eVisa policies in the last four years.