The 2020 Henley Passport Index shows that while it is easy to travel across the continent, Africans have a harder time accessing countries outside the region. Well, the survey did not come with many surprises, which makes it even more interesting. Seychelles’ passport has for, not once or twice, but three times, been hammering the passports of other African countries.
The archipelago country in the Indian Ocean is ranked 6th among 47 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. A 115-island country whose capital is Victoria, it has an overall economic score that is above the regional and world averages.
According to the World Bank, Seychelles has the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Africa (USD 15,410 in 2016). However, what really begs the question is how this relatively young democracy manages to have the most powerful passport in Africa.
The main focus of the latest edition of the passport index is on visa access, political and economic stability. The more stable a country is on these grounds, the more likely tourists will visit and increase global mobility, giving the nation’s passport strength.
Seychelles’ passport is the strongest in Africa, for one, because of the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa.
Amanda Smit, Henley’s Managing Partner and Head of South, Central and East Africa, affirmed in a WeeTracker interview, that Seychelles’ passport occupies a strong position on the index largely because the island nation has a visa-waiver in place with the Schengen Area.
The Schengen Area is a zone where 26 European countries, abolished their internal borders, for the free and unrestricted movement of people, in harmony with common rules for controlling external borders and fighting criminality by strengthening the common judicial system and police cooperation.
With 151 points, Seychelles passport comes just after Uruguay, which has a score of 153. Its global ranking is 29 out of 79. In comparison, Japan, which tops the index, has visa-free access to 191 countries.
The closest African country comes in 32nd place, with 146 points. Mauritius also happen to be an island nation, which the World Bank, in 2017, puts its transforming economy’s GDP at USD 13.34 Bn. The scores on the index means Seychelles nationals can travel to 151 countries visa-free.
Even though Seychelles’ passport takes the Africa-to-the-world travel cake, other countries in the continent have a hard time leaving the Challenger Deep side of the index. The factors bringing this on are multi-faceted, but Smit pins it to the slow adoption of mutual visa waivers.
Her explanation is that: “Many African nations appear to be less proactive than other regions in the world in negotiating mutual visa waivers. There is also an issue with development, in that, for the most part, developed nations do not want to negotiate mutual visa-waivers with less developed nations. This is somewhat of an oversimplification, but broadly true”.
In recent years, free visa has pretty much rocked the cradle of African travel, both within and outside the continent. The latest policy on the block came from Nigeria, who now has a portal where African nationals can apply to travel to without a visa. While the efforts are commendable, this and that of other nations have been criticized as two-faced initiatives.
For instance, citizens of South Africa – the country with the continent’s most advanced economy, can go to about 100 countries without a visa. That’s good news on the surface, but a deeper look would reveal that most of these countries – like Brazil, Thailand and South Korea – are more developed than South Africa.
If there’s a mutual visa-waiver between all of them, chances are most people from South Africa cannot afford to travel to these more-developed countries.
Meanwhile, Seychelles nationals can visit countries with more developed economies, such as Germany, the UAE, Russia, Spain, China, Hong Kong, Belgium, France and Greece, among others. Also citizens of Mauritius can go visit Belgium and stay as much as 3 months without having to worry so much about visa.
Smit said in an earlier statement that rankings seem to have dropped but it is not that African countries have lost access – it’s that they are remaining static, while other countries are in a position to make mutually beneficial arrangements which add value to their global mobility.
All these countries have unchanged scores, but the rankings have shifted. According to her, one reason for this shift is that Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Barbados have changed their visa policies, giving visa free access to a number of countries, but not the Seychelles, Mauritius, or South Africa.”
Analysing the index’s historical data, political science researchers Uğur Altundal and Ömer Zarpli, of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh respectively, have also found a strong positive correlation between travel freedom and other kinds of liberties – from the economic to the political, and even individual or human freedoms.
They observed that: “There’s a distinct correlation between visa freedom and investment freedom, for instance. Similar to trade freedom, European states such as Austria, Malta, and Switzerland that have a business-friendly environment, tend to rank highly when it comes to passport power.
Likewise, by using the Human Freedom Index, we have found a strong correlation between personal freedoms such as identity, association and expression, and travel freedom.”
This theory has no different application in Africa, where political and economic stability seems to remain a pipe dream. According to the United Nations, Africa’s economic growth is projected to increase slightly from 3.2 per cent in 2018 to 3.4 per cent in 2019 and 3.7 per cent in 2020. Meanwhile, Asia’s growth is forecast at 4.5 percent for the same period, unchanged from 2019.
The Eastern nation of Somalia, at 104th place, is the African country with the weakest passport, with access to only 32 countries. It occupies the bottom position alongside Afghanistan (overall last), Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan. They round the last five passports in terms of access, each offering holders entry to fewer than three dozen destinations around the world.
In Smit’s opinion, passport power should not be considered in isolation of other socio-political factors such as economic strength, rule of law, low levels of corruption, employment, social security etc.
“As nations become more developed, economically independent, and safer, it is within other countries’ interest to negotiate mutual visa waivers with them so that there can be an easy and somewhat equal flow of citizens in both directions, which is mutually beneficial to all parties”.
Featured Image: Business Insider.
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