Ethiopia is taking the dream of free movement in Africa one step further.
The country will soon allow African citizens to enter without obtaining visas in advance, president Mulatu Teshome told parliament on Monday (Oct. 8). The move follows the decision in June by new prime minister Abiy Ahmed to start issuing online visas for tourists and visitors coming from all over the world. Currently, all travelers, except those from Kenya and Djibouti, have to get a visa before departure or receive it on arrival.
The decision to relax the visa regime will likely be a boon for the country’s hospitality and conference tourism sectors. The capital Addis Ababa is one of the world’s largest diplomatic hubs, hosting the seat of the African Union, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and dozens of foreign embassies.
The announcement also has big political ramifications especially for Abiy, who has promised to open up the country and attract foreign investment. Relaxing visa rules in Africa’s second most populous and one its fastest-growing economies also sends a message to other African states—small or large—to follow suit. Over the past few years, countries including Kenya, Rwanda, and Mauritius have all eased visa rules for other African travelers. As part of the continental free trade agreement, the African Union also hopes to enshrine the free movement of people and businesses across the continent by 2023.
The move will also likely be a windfall for Ethiopian Airlines, the state carrier that has dominated Africa’s airspace. The airline has in recent years taken up a pan-African strategy, launching more connections, reviving defunct national airlines, and setting up more hubs across the continent. In August, the airline also launched stopover packages for connecting passengers to discover the Horn of African nation’s historical and cultural monuments.
But while many African countries waive restrictions, others are not. Recently, Tanzania reportedly reversed visa on arrival policies for countries including Nigeria, Mali, and Somalia. South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy, is opening its borders to Chinese and Indian visitors but is still dragging its feet when it comes to welcoming African travelers.