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Kenya’s Visa-Free Policy Raise Criticism 

Kenyan Lawyers in a Protest Resists Ruto's threats to Judges

In a bid to encourage tourism and foster easier travel within Africa, Kenya recently implemented a policy offering visa-free entry to all foreigners. This policy, however, includes a requirement for visitors to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) and pay a processing fee, leading to mixed reactions from both international travellers and Kenyan citizens.

The ETA must be obtained by submitting documents and paying a $30 (£23) processing fee, after which an Advance Passenger Information (API) screening is conducted. The API aims to collect valuable bio-data from passengers, including travel purposes and flight details, before granting the ETA. This, according to the government, will allow for proper security checks before travellers’ arrival.

So, while entry is free, one cannot just get on a flight to Rwanda without meeting these new requirements. The new requirements apply to even citizens of countries that previously enjoyed unrestricted access to Kenya. Opinions are divided when it comes to this arrangement.

President William Ruto’s December announcement of Kenya becoming a “visa-free country” was initially lauded by those in the tourism sector as a bold move that other African countries should embrace. It aligns with the African Union’s (AU) goal of visa-free travel within the continent. A 2022 AU-backed report had it that only Benin, Seychelles, and The Gambia offer visa-free entry to all African citizens. Rwanda joined the league in November 2023 when President Paul Kagame announced that all Africans would now be allowed to travel to Rwanda without a visa.

Kenya’s visa-free initiative took flight on Friday as the first group of foreigners flew into the country under the policy. As of Sunday, authorities reported receiving over 9,000 visa applications through the digital platform.

Kenya’s ETA application portal

Foreigners, however, express dissatisfaction, claiming the policy has caused confusion and increased the difficulty and cost of travelling to Kenya.

Prominent Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono criticized Kenya, stating, “Dear Africans, Kenya is not telling the truth when it says it is visa-free; it has made travelling more difficult for Africans who didn’t need a visa before.” Malawian entrepreneur Jones Ntaukira shared similar sentiments, emphasizing the increased complexity of travel arrangements.

“Until 24 hours ago, as a Malawian, I could just wake up, buy a ticket, and fly to Kenya in the afternoon, visa-free.

Now, Kenya has ‘removed visa’ for everyone, but everyone has to pay a $30 travel authorization fee 72 hours before travel. What? Hectic”, he lamented.

Foreigners are not alone in their mixed feelings about Kenya’s new ETA travel system. Concerns are rising among Kenyans that these stricter restrictions might lead to a potential boycott by some foreigners or reciprocal restrictions from other countries.

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