In about 70 countries, all you need to visit is your Kenyan international passport.
BY FRANCOIS VAN DYK
My all-time favourite author is a gentleman called Paul Theroux. Born in Medford, Massachusetts in 1941, Theroux is now considered one of the best travel writers of all time. Starting off as a member of the Peace Corp serving in Malawi in the early 1960’s, he went on to traverse the world. He is well known for chronicling his travels, the first major one being recounted in “The Great Railway Bazaar”, travelling from London to Tokyo by train in the 1970s.
“Dark Star Safari”, published in 2002, accounts his trip from Cairo to Cape Town on trains, buses, cars and armed convoys and is a beautifully honest homage the one of his favourite continents. Theroux has always been an Afro-optimist and believes the notion that Africa needs masses of aid and international help is misguided and is actually a burden on the continent: “There’s hope in the wilderness. What Africa needs is a little organisation and better government.”
Desire to travel
I devoured every travel book Theroux ever wrote – travelling in India, China, Argentine, Iran, Vietnam, Angola, the list is endless, and this awakened a big desire to see these places for myself. About 10 years ago I decided to plan but as travel can be expensive, I started to look at affordable options. My first trip on long distance buses took me through central South Africa to the coast and eventually up through Swaziland (recently renamed Eswatini) through to Mozambique. The next trip took me through Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia – all reasonably cheap.
But it is amazing how the universe works once you set your mind on something. Within a year after my last self-funded backpacking trip I got the opportunity to travel to the United States for work. Since then I have been blessed to visit North, West and East Africa, Europe, South East Asia and China – around 30 countries! I have seen the monuments in Washington, Niagara Falls, Big Ben and Stonehenge, the beaches of Barcelona, the Eifel Tower, the Reichstag in Berlin, Vatican City, the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet, Istanbul, the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, the Buddhist temples of Bangkok, the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx and much more. But this is just a tiny fraction of what remains on my bucket list.
Though every trip needs a lot of organisation the biggest frustration always remains getting the visas approved. This is particularly a challenge if you are an African citizen – and unfortunately travel on the continent can be an even bigger challenge than the rest of the world. Kenyans are probably luckier than most as the World Passport Index ranks the Kenyan passport as the 60th most powerful globally along with Cuba and Tanzania. The Henley Passport Index, another index, ranks the Kenyan passport 74th in terms of travel freedom (tied with the People’s Republic of China.)
Whatever index you prefer, it does mean that Kenyans can travel to around 70 countries without the need of a visa, where they can apply for an e-visa or get a visa issued on arrival. Of these only 17 countries in the rest of Africa do not require a visa at all. These include countries like Benin, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Senegal and the more obvious Zambia, Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Other regions that are particularly welcoming to Kenyans which require no visas are Asia Pacific with countries and territories like Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. Caribbean territories like Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago also do not require visas for Kenyan visitors.
Visa free Africa
The African Union’s “Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want” is a blueprint and master plan to transform Africa into a global power. It recognises the challenges of African’s to visit other continental countries and its Aspiration 2 of Agenda 2063 aims to create a visa free Africa. It envisions “An integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s renaissance”. A great step forward for Kenyans was the launch of the East African format ePassport in September 2017. Featuring enhanced security features and bio-metric data of the holder, such as fingerprints, digital photo and signatures, it is believed that this passport will improve travel efficiencies considerably.
However, the African Union will do well by not only improving the free movement of people by reducing stringent visa requirements for African citizens on the continent, but also to encourage improvement on travel infrastructure in general. It is time that we invest, explore and appreciate our biggest natural asset – the beauty of the continent and its people. As famed American author Mark Twain said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
Francois van Dyk, @sbalie, heads up Operations at Ornico, the Brand Intelligence research company. He worked in public relations before entering the world of media research.