Reactions were swift to come in when news spread over the weekend that expatriates living in any of the three countries of Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya will still have to pay travel visa fees in order to be able to visit any of the neighboring countries – a disappointing state of affairs. This is surely not the way to keep a significant number of travelers within the region, as expats in large numbers visit countries which do not require a visa from them like the UAE, the Seychelles, or South Africa.
At a cost of US$100 per visa, the period of validity is now extended to 6 months. This does not matter much, however, for those who only wish to spend their local leave for instance at the beaches of Mombasa and not travel several times to and from one of the neighboring countries.
Tourism stakeholders have long argued that such a visa should be given for free for expatriates holding a work or residence permit, but it is now clear that the issue of revenue trumped the need to truly make the region an open area for tourist exchanges.
While officials tried to spin a positive effect into this latest announcement, tourism operators and in particular travel agents were less hopeful as they had expected that the need for a costly visa, setting a family of four back by US$200 under the old regime and US$400 under the new regime, would be shelved.
“The doubts you expressed here before were justified. If my clients now pay 100 dollars each for a visa, even if it is valid for half a year, and they only need it once a year when they have their local leave, they will keep that money in their pockets and continue to fly to Dubai or to Jo’burg or to the Seychelles,” said a travel agent in Kampala before adding, “If they really want more expats here to go to Mombasa, with all the hullaballoo going on there, they must give them a free entry, because what we now read is a weak compromise which will serve little purpose. There will not be much uptake for that, perhaps business people regularly flying from Entebbe to Nairobi or Kigali but not for the target this was aimed for – families going for a beach holiday. They never listen!”
Is change which brings no change really change? After all, duly-registered expats pay taxes and deserve some better consideration. The spirit of an open, and as the promoters say, “Borderless Borders East Africa,” here at least, is not very visible.