President John Dramani Mahama of Ghana, on Sunday March 6, announced a new visa-on-arrival policy for citizens of African Union (AU) member states, to be introduced from July.
This new visa policy is big news in Africa, as it implies that Ghana will now begin to offer visas on arrival to citizens of all 54 African Union (AU) member states.
Opening its doors to other African nations could be crucial for Ghana, as its travel and tourism industry accounts for 5.9% of its GDP.
Mahama did not say whether the new policy would include business visas, but at a time when foreign direct investment on the continent is falling, the country could benefit from opening its doors.
According to the African Development Bank, only 25% of the countries offer visas on arrival to nationals of other African nations. In other words, it is easier for North Americans to travel within the continent than it is for Africans.
Only the Seychelles is known to have an open access visa policy applicable to citizens of all AU member states. (Ghana currently offers visa free entry for citizens of 15 countries within the Economic Community of West African States).
Nationals from African countries have, in the past, complained of the many hassles one has to go through to get visas for another African country.
Business people trading in the continent have often felt frustrated at spending weeks trying to get visas for each country, meanwhile these business men, armed with a European Schengen visa, could travel through many European countries and conduct business without hassle.
President Mahama made the declaration while delivering his State of the Nation address a few weeks ago, as part of his independence day speech.
Mahama also advocated more unity across the continent by urging his countrymen to learn French, the official language of more than half of the countries in Africa. English is the official language of Ghana, but it is bordered by francophone countries like Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and Togo.
President Mahama’s new visa policy could boost AU’s significance once again.
Ghana boasts that it takes African unity very seriously, as it was its first President, Kwame Nkrumah, who was the driving force behind the establishment of the OAU back in 1963.
During the struggle for independence, Ghana provided a place of refuge for many freedom fighters, especially from South Africa with many being given Ghanaian passports.
In the early years of Ghana’s independence, and before the establishment of ECOWAS, there were visa exemptions for “persons of African descent” born in the neighbouring west African countries, and members of the Casablanca group, which consisted of Guinea, Tunisia, Mali, United Arab Republic, Morocco and Algeria.
But these arrangements were scrapped after the overthrow of President Nkrumah.