BY ANTONY MUTUNGA
For my fellow Africans, the free movement of people on our continent has always been a cornerstone of Pan-African brotherhood and fraternity. The freer we are to travel and live with one another, the more integrated and appreciative of our diversity, we will become. Today, I am directing that any African wishing to visit Kenya will be eligible to receive a visa at the port of entry – President Uhuru Kenyatta
The inauguration of Uhuru Kenyatta’s second term as President of Kenya was an interesting one as it saw him welcome all Africans to visit the country after he announced that they would be eligible to obtain their visas on arrival. This saw the country join the likes of Mauritius, Seychelles and Rwanda with the latter going even further to introduce visas on arrival to citizens in every nation around the world.
This move has been applauded by many member countries of the African Union (AU) who see it as a step in the right direction not only for Kenya but for the continent as whole, as it focuses on being visa-free in order to create more opportunities for Africans. The directive came months after the African Development Bank released a report showing that movement across the continent was still a major challenge. According to the report, The 2017 African Visa Openness Index, African passport holders were required to have visas before visiting 54% of the countries while only 24% of the countries had provisions for visa on arrival.
Within the country, the President was also praised for the bold move by different organizations that felt that this was going to help the economy grow. The East African Trade Union Confederation (EATUC) was one of those that praised the directive stating that it was long overdue as they had spent years working on how to make the continent borderless.
“We urge the rest of the continent to take a cue from this bold move by President Kenyatta because this will ease movement of persons and promote fast economic growth in the region and on the African continent,” said Francis Atwoli, chair, EATUC.
Those in favor of the move argue that it would lead to African passport holders flocking the country as it cuts down their costs while saving them time. This encourages Africans who like to travel around the continent to do it more as the exorbitant fees they had to part with and the long processes involved to acquire the visas will now no longer be there. For example, in the case of Rwanda the introduction of the visa on arrival policy in 2013 saw the number of Africans flocking into the nation increase by an average of 22% per year.
Henceforth, as more Africans come to Kenya’s borders, the number of investments in the country will increase, as will those of African tourists. This is in turn will help the country to develop more because there would be an increase in the inflow of money, which will eventually lead to the growth of the economy.
However, regardless of the fact that it will help the economy grow in some aspect, the policy requires to be analyzed and consulted on more before it is implemented fully. This is necessary as a result of the several national security challenges that have been affecting the country. With acts of terrorism still being carried out in numbers within the country, the government needs to first put up measures to ensure that with the directive in place those entering the country are not terrorists who may want to do harm to the country.
In addition to the security of the nation being in jeopardy, the move to introduce visas on arrival for Africans also causes a major problem for the king of the east African region. As a result of having the largest economy in the region, the move is expected to attract Africa’s growing class to the country, which will have its consequences especially on sectors such as health and education.
As the country offers free maternity services in public hospitals, and as county governments purpose to scale up medical services, people from the neighboring countries may take the opportunity of visa on arrival policy to flock in and have access to the services. Secondly, Kenya’s new policy to offer free education up to secondary school is also bound to attract a number of Africans to the country as they look to take advantage of free education. If they will be accorded the same treatment as the natives, then this would spell trouble, as these resources are limited.
As a result of more people coming, the country will end up being overpopulated and because there are limited resources it will lead to a rise in unemployment. With the current level of unemployment in the country already standing at 39.1% according to a report by United Nations; Human Development Index (HDI) 2017, an increase in the population would see unemployment increase as well. In addition, the increase in population would see more unskilled labor enter the market and thus many natives would end up losing their jobs as employers prefer the unskilled labors because they agree to low wages.
This in turn would cause further economic inequality as the employers are able to get more workers at a cheaper price. Production, as a result of cheap labour, would increase to new heights. This in conjunction to the increase in demand of goods due to the large population would see companies make profits but with lowly paid workers. As a result, the wealthy will end up with the larger portion thus widening the gap between the poor and rich even further.
Before this policy is executed fully in Kenya, there is a need to make up regulations and rules to ensure that it does not end up hurting Kenyans in favour of those coming in. The policy is indeed a step in the right direction, as it would make the country a continental economic hub however, to realize its full potential there is a need to develop a structure on how it would work. If the government can ensure that this policy is run smoothly by curbing the disadvantages, then the move will have positive effects on the growth of our economy.