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Friday, 5 April 2013

A SADC Without Visas?

Tourism Minister Sylvia Masebo last week announced that Government has ratified the Convention on the free movement of people in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Announcing the development she said, "I'm happy to say only yesterday (Monday), our government decided to ratify the free movement of persons within the SADC region, which means that any person moving from Zimbabwe to Zambia, from Zambia to Namibia, from Namibia to Botswana among the 30 members of the SADC region can move freely without visa restrictions, without paying any fees. We have become one when it comes to movement”
This is not quite as simple as Ms Masebo puts it. The Convention actually has to be ratified (transposed into domestic law) by other SADC states before it is fully operational. It will only apply to those Member States that ratify it. That is no simple task because this Convention has been on the books since 2005. In parallel there has been a push for a UNIVISA (an EU Schengen style common visa) which was proposed in another Protocol on Development of Tourism signed by SADC leaders in 1998. That has never been ratified either by some countries. The UNIVISA is necessary to operationalise the 2005 Convention.

The 2005 Convention if fully implemented through the UNIVISA idea does have has potential benefits for tourism - people will be able to move free without visa restrictions. It is particularly beneficial for those operating multiple tours. The cost of course is loss in visa revenues, which many hope would be offset by greater tourist attractions, assuming of course that “visa costs” are a binding constraint to tourism.

The debate though has been largely around security risks. In particular, some countries have rightly noted that it is no good taking forward “open borders” without a SADC computer security system at border posts and airports for tracking people. Botswana has already rejected both initiatives citing "security fears".

For Zambia security is already porous due to illegal immigrants and poor border posts. Ms Masebo once said that security in Zambia is so porous that people fly in and out without detection. At the time her concern was illegal shipment of animals. So perhaps she is merely being consistent by not caring about human related security issues and human trafficking that may get an additional boost. As one of our contributors observed on the Facebook discussion, “what security? Zambia is full of illegal Zimbabweans, Congolese and Somalians anyway”. On the flipside may be removing visa restrictions may help us shift our unemployment to Angola and Mozambique. We can only speculate because Ms Masebo never shares any analysis with the public on which her decisions are supposedly based. 

Copyright © Zambian Economist 2013

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