KIGALI- Beginning in January, every African visitor to Rwanda will be granted his or her visa upon arrival in the country from any border post. This “on-the-spot” visa process, according to Ange Sebutege, communications officer at the Rwandan Immigration Services, is designed to bring in more Africans tourists.
Until now, visitors had to fill out an online form before they could obtain a visa to enter the country. "To fill a visa application online proved extremely hard for many African applicants, as a vast majority of them do not have access to the Internet, or do not know how to use it," explains Anaclet Kalibata, director of the Immigration Department of Rwanda. “Those who want to continue to apply online will still be able to do so.”
Though the government is maintaing the $30 cost for most three-month tourist and for 30-day business visas, they will be free for citizens from neighboring countries from the East African Community and the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries, as well as for those with passports from the U.S., Germany, UK, Singapore, and Sweden.
"Pan-Africanism is a movement that strives toward the fulfillment of all Africans in Africa. There is no use for borders in Africa," says Sebutege.
Other countries should follow Rwanda’s path, says a Kigali resident: "A lot of people do not travel because applying for a visa is a complicated issue. They don’t know where the embassies are -- or consulates are far from where they live. When we open the doors to everyone, everybody wins."
Looking for new tourists
For Kalibata, Rwanda’s new visa policy is auspicious: "The massive inflow of foreign nationals will help develop the tourist industry and local businesses." The annual turnover of the Rwandan tourism sector is $200 million. A large part of this money comes from non-African foreign tourists, but their numbers have started to decrease, according to a local tourist guide.
"The economic crisis in Europe has forced Rwandan authorities to start looking for new opportunities to attract African visitors," notes an economist from Kigali. In 2011, the country welcomed nearly 405,000 visitors – 20% of whom were Africans.
Not everybody is enthusiastic about the new visa measures for African visitors. "Those who have planed their trip and are denied a visa at the border will have to go home – what a waste of time and money!" says a Human Right Activist from Kigali. "Imagine a Senegalese or Algerian visitor being denied a visa at the Rwandan border."
Ange Sebutege admits that "the facilitated visa process does not necessarily guarantees a visa. Entry will be denied to visitors who do not meet the immigration requirements."
Admitedly, some Rwandans also fear for their safety. “With massive tourist influxes, border controls will be more relaxed, letting in potential criminals and terrorists," worries Alphonse from Kigali. "Making it easier to obtain a visa is one thing – but reinforcing border controls is crucial."