Where did the rain start beating you.
Over the last two weeks, I have had the opportunity and I would say privilege to engage several of Africa’s leaders,past,present and future.
Aware that we can not simply discountenance the past and walk into a smooth present, I had chat sessions with at least 5 former presidents on where the rains started beating us.
I was greatly encouraged by comments from President Paul Kagame of Rwanda who made it known that the world owes Africa nothing and that Africa should stop the whining game and rise to the responsibility of building a modern state.
While we complain about European, American and Asian countries administering harsh Visa conditions on Africans, we have failed to look at the type of Visa conditionality between African countries.
When I got to the university, part of the ‘brainwashing’ exercise that is a ritual at Nsukka then was to ensure that every student read two ‘important book’ How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney and the Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon. I do not know if that ritual is still in practice today.
But my take is that we should focus less on how ‘others’ are contributing to our underdevelopment, and refocus more on how we are underdeveloped ourselves. A year ago, a dear friend with whom I rarely agree on development questions and answers introduced me to a book that influenced me greatly. titled Underdevelopment is a State of Mind by Lawrence E.Harisson. In that Book, Harisson examined in depth the historical performance of several Latin American countries and Australia, seeking to isolate the sources of successful development. He concludes that the principal determinant is culture, defined for this purpose as values and attitudes. In each of the successful countries “the world view of the society has expressed itself in ways that have affected the society’s cohesion, its proneness to justice and progress, and the extent to which it taps human creative potential”.
Back to the Visa issue and other government policies that are contributing to the underdevelopment of Africa. In a Seminar I participated in, a good friend of mine and one of Africa’s brightest minds Professor Mthuli Ncube stated that Africa is one of the regions in the world with the highest visa requirements. Visa restrictions imply missed economic opportunities for intra-regional trade and for the local service economy such as tourism, cross-country medical services or education.Ncube should know what he is talking about, he is the Chief Economist and Vice-President of the African Development Bank and heads the Africa Knowledge bank.
In his own submission, Dr. Ibrahim Bocar Ba, ECOWAS Commissioner of macroeconomic policy, underlined that Africans mainly migrate to Africa. In ECOWAS more than 80% of all migration is intra-regional. Nonetheless, Africans need visas to go to 80% African countries, these restrictions are higher for Africans traveling within Africa than for Europeans and North Americans. Razia Khan, who is head of research in Africa for Standard Chartered Bank, introduced herself rather as a citizen of an African country, traveling extensively within Africa – who often measures the time that it takes to get visas against the amount of economic research that could have been developed.
Leonard Rugwabiza, Director, General Planning at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning in Rwanda, shared the lessons of Rwanda, which has moved to biometrix border management, low restrictions on transfer of services in engineering and legal services as well as visas on arrival for all African citizens since January 1, 2013. Rwanda, with a limited number of embassies abroad, has also introduced e-visas in order to reduce the costs and time constraints of people in obtaining visas. He confirms that “since we opened our borders, tourism from African countries has increased by 24%.” Furthermore, “trade actually shifted from being oriented to Europe and North America, and is now oriented to neighbouring countries. Trade with neighbouring countries increased by 50% last year, and trade with neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo rose by 73%”.
My question at that Seminar which no one had answer to was How much will it cost Africa to abolish visa restrictions and restrictions of goods and services as against what the continent will gain. As someone who has traversed across 40 African countries, I know the frustrations of applying,waiting and obtaining visas