Pan-Africanism Alive In Rwanda, As Visa Requirements Eased For All Africans

Welcome brothers!
Welcome brothers!
Fanny Kaneza

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."

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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