By Denis Jjuuko
One Saturday evening, I received a message asking me whether I could be in Accra in Ghana by Wednesday afternoon. I could make the trip subject to availability of a flight from Entebbe that doesn’t have to take me around the world and most importantly the visa, or so I thought.
I checked for flights and found several but the most convenient for me was the one leaving Entebbe on Wednesday morning around 4.00am in order to be in Accra by Wednesday afternoon (Uganda is three hours ahead). I then thought about the visa process. Can I get a visa by Tuesday afternoon? Where do they get the visa from?
I was about to google when I remembered a friend who had just returned from Ghana and gave her a call. She said as a Uganda passport holder, I don’t need any visa to visit Accra. I immediately booked the flight. I was to visit Accra for the very first time.
On arrival at Kotoka International Airport, the immigration officer simply asked me how Uganda was and like with most Africans, we chatted about the weather and I invited him to visit so he could enjoy our hospitality. He argued that they are the best when it comes to being hospitable and said I will have a pleasant stay in his country. With a broad smile, he stamped my passport and waved me off. And he didn’t lie!
But had I needed a lengthy visa process, I wouldn’t have made it. Whoever manages Entebbe International Airport long term car park would have lost some revenue. The airport itself wouldn’t have lost some revenue too. There are chaps who wrap bags at the airport who would have lost Shs30,000. The forex bureau would have lost some money because I had to make a last-minute exchange whereas the restaurant where I grabbed a quick drink wouldn’t have made an extra buck. The airline would have missed money which means the government of Uganda wouldn’t have made some money either in terms of taxes. There is another young man who I tipped for helping me carry my luggage. He also offered to wash my car on the outside while it was parked at the airport at a small fee. The Entebbe Expressway would have lost Shs10,000 (round trip).
On arrival in Accra, the car hire guys would not have made money and so is the hotel where I stayed. On my return, I bought a few souvenirs and such other things. By just being in Accra for a few days, a lot of money exchanged hands.
The invitation to Accra reminded me of one of the African countries where I applied for a visa and got it after the event had ended. The visa was also for the exact days of the event, which meant arriving after the event had started and leaving before it had ended. So apart from the country making money off me in visa fees, their airline which I was to use didn’t get paid. The hotel where I was to stay, the duty free shops, cab drivers, and all the people in that value chain didn’t make money from me. How much such money are they losing every day? How many jobs are lost?
If they fear that people will remain in their country illegally, they can have other ways to ensure those who visit don’t over stay their visas.
African countries must open up their borders like Ghana is to Ugandans and I believe other countries. The economies will grow more and there will be more opportunities to trade with each other. Airlines and other transporters would make more money which would enable the collection of more taxes.
While in Accra, I listened to young woman who roasts coffee and she said she had made several learning trips to Uganda because of our coffee. She established contacts with some coffee people here and as her start up grows, you never know the collaborations she will have. If she had to go through a strenuous exercise to get a visa, she would have spent her money in another country.
Yet for most of these African countries that restrict movement between themselves enable Americans and Europeans to simply fly in, pay US$50 dollars at the point of entry and they are allowed in.
Open borders for goods and services and people will enable the continent grow. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a good start and needs to be fast tracked. Africa’s population is approximately 1.4 billion people which is the same size as China. This is a huge market which can be easily tapped if we removed all barriers that inhibit trade amongst ourselves.
The writer is a communication and visibility consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org