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Africa’s richest man says he needs 35 visas to travel across Africa – far more than a European visitor

Even the richest man in Africa has difficulty traveling on his own continent.

Despite doing business in several countries, Nigerian-born Aliko Dangote complains that he faces far more hurdles crossing Africa than visitors with a European passport ever will.

“As an investor, as someone who wants to make Africa great, I have to apply for 35 different visas in my passport,” Dangote recently told the Africa CEO Forum in Kigali.

“I really don’t have time to hand over my passport to embassies to get a visa,” he said, drawing laughter from the audience.

The 67-year-old entrepreneur’s visa problems have once again ignited a new firestorm over the frustrations of intra-Africa travel for Africans.

It is even more infuriating for many Africans that European passports of former colonial masters in Africa have more visa-free access than many African passports. It is a point that Dangote made forcefully in Kigali, when he turned to the French director next to him and said with a straight face: “I can assure you that Patrick (Pouyanné, CEO of Total Energies) does not need 35 visas on a French passport, which means you have freer movement than I do in Africa.”

Dangote praised Rwanda, which has abolished visas for all African nationals in 2023. Benin, Gambia and the Seychelles also offer visa-free entry to all Africans.

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But many African countries still require visas from other Africans and the experience is fraught with discrimination, hostility and sky-high fees.

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‘Humbling experience’

Nigerian travel filmmaker Tayo Aina says he was forced to provide a stool sample in front of an Ethiopian immigration officer when he landed in Addis Ababa in April 2021.

“It was my most humbling experience traveling through Africa,” he told CNN by phone from London. He has also been arrested at airports in Kenya and South Africa because of his Nigerian passport.

This year, Aina announced that he bought a passport from the Caribbean country of St. Kitts and Nevis for $150,000 so he can travel more freely. “Sometimes you go to a country and it is no longer visa-on-arrival. There are cases where people are deported when they land because they changed the policy mid-flight,” says the 31-year-old YouTuber.

The African Union has said that one of its goals is to “remove restrictions on Africans’ ability to travel, work and live on their own continent by transforming restrictive laws and promoting visa-free travel,” but the implementation is slow. Free movement within the continent is a crucial part of the African Continental Free Trade Area, but the measures are not in line with commitments.

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Difficulties crossing African borders are a regular source of frustration for African travelers.  -Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

Difficulties crossing African borders are a regular source of frustration for African travelers. -Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

Fear of permanent migration is one reason African countries don’t make it easy for other Africans to visit, migration researcher Alan Hirsch told CNN.

“In the richer African countries, there is a fear that people from poorer countries are looking for a way to move there permanently,” he explains. “Many Africans cross the border informally and we don’t really have insight into that. Some countries are afraid that people will apply for asylum and then disappear under the radar.”

The retired University of Cape Town professor leads a program on migration at the New South Institute think tank in Johannesburg. He says the integrity of passport and visa systems, especially in poorer African countries, has also hindered the mobility of Africans. “People have found illegal ways to get passports, for example someone pretending to be Burundian without actually being from that country.”

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New bottlenecks

Although Africans can move relatively freely within their region, traveling further afield is still a challenge. Travelers from East African Community countries do not require a visa within the bloc and most parts of South and West Africa are open to nationals from the respective regions.

But even what seems like progress can introduce some new bottlenecks. A Nigerian visa on arrival cost $25 for Kenyan passport holders. But following changes to the application process, Kenyans must now apply for a Nigerian e-visa in advance, at a cost of $215.

Security officers are seen at the passport checkpoint at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, Nigeria on September 7, 2020.  REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde - Afolabi Sotunde/ReutersSecurity officers are seen at the passport checkpoint at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, Nigeria on September 7, 2020.  REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde - Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

Security officers are seen at the passport checkpoint at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, Nigeria on September 7, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde – Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

Kenyan President William Ruto promised to abolish visa requirements for anyone traveling to the East African country. Instead, he introduced an electronic travel authorization, but the application process is similar to that of a visa. It costs $30 with no processing fees and approval may take several days. Many visa applications require an application form, bank statements, flight and hotel bookings. Applicants are often rejected due to incomplete documentation or for unclear reasons.

“South Africa held my passport for almost five months,” says Nigerian content creator Tayo. With his new St. Kitts passport he can go to more African countries than with his Nigerian passport.

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