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Ideas & Debate

Uhuru’s visa deals boost power of Kenyan passport

President Uhuru Kenyatta
President Uhuru Kenyatta. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

New data indicates that Kenya's passport still remains one of the most powerful on the continent. According to the 2020 Henley Passport Index, one of several indexes created by financial firms to rank global passports according to the access they provide to their citizens, the Kenyan passport is ranked at position eight on the continent and 72 globally.

The index indicates that a holder of the Kenyan passport can now travel to 71 destinations worldwide without a prior visa.

At the top of the globe, Japan is now the unrivalled leader whose passport opens more doors to the world, offering visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to an incredible 191 destinations around the world.

Asia dominates the top of the list, with Singapore in second place (with a score of 190) and South Korea tying with Germany in third place (with a score of 189).

In Africa, Seychelles, which is ranked 29 globally, boasts of the post powerful passport with access to 151 destination without a prior visa followed by South Africa (56), Botswana(62), Namibia(67), Lesotho(69), eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) (70) and Malawi (71).

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The Henley Passport Index, compiled by Henley & Partners, periodically measures the world’s most travel-friendly passports. The index is based on data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Visa requirements often reflect the relationships between individual nations and a country's standing in the international community.

That is why most countries including Kenya strive to enter into visa liberalisation arrangements to facilitate mobility of their nationals.

Easy mobility in turn boosts, among others, trade, tourism, bilateral and multilateral cooperation as well as aiding in the creation of more open societies.

It also enables citizens to take advantage of opportunities available elsewhere in areas such as employment, education and medicare.

While the Kenyan passport remains powerful, it should be noted that it ranks eight places lower than its position on the index in 2010. The rankings are also likely to be blotted by the tedious and tainted process of acquiring the Kenyan passport.

Earlier investigations by the Business Daily showed that applicants have to part with some money to secure the release of their documents, even after paying the requisite fees, allegations which the Immigration Department has often dismissed.

Driving the application and tracking process online seems to have done little to push the corruption cartels underground.

It should take at least 10 working days to get your first passport once the form has been physically submitted at Immigration. For all other applications, it should take about five working days.

According to the report, African countries have seen the power of their passports decline over the last decade due to political instability and conflict that has affected travel freedom on the continent.

While Kenya is not categorised as a victim, the report says there is a strongly positive connection between visa freedom and a variety of indicators of economic freedom, government integrity, and personal or political freedom.

Amanda Smit, the Henley and Partners managing partner and head of South, Central and East Africa, said that the implementation of reciprocal visa waivers is the determining factor for upward movement in the global ranking.

“The rankings seem to have dropped but it is not that African countries have lost access — it’s that they are remaining static, while other countries are in a position to make mutually beneficial arrangements which add value to their global mobility,” she said.

In this regard, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his administration according to officials have done well in boosting visa freedom for Kenyan passport holders through reciprocal bilateral arrangements in Africa and beyond. A Kenyan can visit 32 African countries without a prior visa.

“This impressive performance is a reflection of Kenya's increased visibility and clout in all key agenda in the global community of nations,” Foreign Affairs Chief Administrative Secretary Ababu Namwamba told the Business Daily.

“The President's Afrocentric policy has seen premium focus on Africa, leading to historic visa deals with our sister countries across the continent, including South Africa, Mozambique and Ethiopia. His vision on multilateralism has seen Kenya perform very strongly in key regional, continental and global fora, including the African Union, the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States and United Nations.”

Mr Namwamba cited Mr Kenyatta's election last month to lead the 79-member strong ACP and Kenya's current bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the period 2021/22 as examples of Kenya’s growing clout on the international stage.

“Bilaterally, Kenya's ties with nations of the world of all sizes, locations and complexions has never been stronger,” he argued.

“Even regions like the Caribbean that have hitherto not featured very prominently in the wider scheme of Kenya's global footprint are now right at the core of our diplomatic relations.”

The President’s pan-Africa stance was pronounced yet again a notch in November 2017 when during his swearing in for a second term, he directed that all Africans wishing to visit Kenya will henceforth be eligible to receive a visa at the port of entry.

Rwanda was the first to announce such a policy and the two were recently joined by Nigeria. In addition, citizens of East African Community (EAC) member states, he said, will be treated like Kenyans when they visit the country.

Mr Kenyatta, who since assuming office in 2013, has pursued a Pan-African policy stance was of the opinion that free movement of people on the continent is the cornerstone of Pan-African brotherhood and fraternity.

"The freer we are to travel and live with one another, the more integrated and appreciative of our diversity we will become," he said during the ceremony at the Kasarani Stadium.

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