Ghana To Remove Visa Requirements For All Citizens Of African Unity Member States

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After President John Dramani Mahama delivered his State of the Nation address two weeks ago, most of the discussions were on local and internal affairs, and this being an election year in the country, the debates were heated and will continue for a long time.

But hidden somewhere in the speech and lost in all the discussion was a major foreign affairs initiative which slipped by without media reporting or analysis and it seems likely people may have missed this completely.

Ghana’s new visa-on-arrival policy for citizens of African Unity member states, to be introduced from July, only came to light after an announcement from the African Union.

Nationals from African countries complain loudly about the humiliations they go through to get visas for Europe and the United States but the process for African visas is often just as frustrating.

Anyone who has tried to cross borders on the African continent will have experienced the difficulties with travelling in Africa.

Air fares cost more than anywhere else and few roads or railways connect the countries to each other.

The immigration and police check points turn the journeys into veritable obstacle courses.

Displaced people who fled the anti-immigrant violence are seen in a camp on April 19, 2015 in the village of Primrose, 15 kms east of JohannesburgImage copyrightAFP
Image captionSouth Africa is one country where other Africans do not always receive a warm welcome

We no longer have to go through Europe to fly to each other’s countries, but flight connections are so few and so random, you are tempted to resort to the old routes through Europe to go to the country next door.

However, this is nothing compared to the hassle one has to go through to get visas for another African country.

Business people trading in the continent felt frustrated in the past at spending weeks trying to get visas for each country.

They pointed out that once armed with a European Schengen visa, they could travel through many European countries and conduct business without hassle.

Pointless bureaucracies

Unsurprisingly Ecowas, the West African regional body established in 1975 was at the time considered an attractive union due to the introduction of visa-free travel among member states.

Continental organizations like the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), formed to foster cooperation between African states and its successor the African Union (AU), launched in 2002, have few passionate supporters these days in Ghana as they are seen as pointless bureaucracies that have no bearing on the lives of people.

President Mahama’s policy could boost AU’s significance once again.

African unity was taken very seriously here in Ghana. It was our first President, Kwame Nkrumah, who was the driving force behind the establishment of the OAU back in 1963.

President Kwame NkrumahImage copyrightGetty Images
Image captionPresident Kwame Nkrumah was a firm believer in African unity

During the struggle for independence, Ghana provided a place of refuge for many freedom fighters, especially from South Africa with many being given Ghanaian passports.

As countries gained independence, Ghanaians were dismayed to discover they were not particularly welcome in these countries.

In the early years of Ghana’s independence, and before the establishment of Ecowas, there were visa exemptions for “persons of African descent” born in the neighbouring west African countries, and members of the Casablanca group, which consisted of Guinea, Tunisia, Mali, United Arab Republic, Morocco and Algeria.

But these arrangements were scrapped after the overthrow of President Nkrumah.

With the new visa policy, Ghanaians will be watching to see if the number of non-Ecowas African nationals coming to Ghana will rise.

We in Ghana have a reputation for restless feet and are always trying to find new destinations to get to.

Obtaining visas for travel is often the greatest obstacle to travel and any country that makes it easier for us to enter becomes very attractive.

Whilst many here will be feeling that Ghana is taking a lead in implementing an AU directive, there will be greater interest in knowing how many other African countries will be allowing Ghanaians to enter their countries on a visa-on arrival policy.



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GHANA: First Lady, Mrs Lordina Mahama, appeal to world powers to find a solution to Zika Virus to avoid another Ebola-like virus epidemic

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The First Lady, Mrs Lordina Mahama, has urged the World Health Organisation and the International Community to speedily deal with the Zika Virus outbreak in the Americas to prevent its spread to other parts of the world.

Mrs Mahama, who is also the President of the Organisation of African First Lady Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), said in a statement to the Ghana News Agency, in Accra, that already the virus had infected thousands of pregnant women and their newborns in North and South America and continued to spread on a daily basis.

The statement said Mrs Mahama, who was addressing the closing session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of OAFLA, in Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia, made a passionate appeal to world powers to help the women and their unborn babies now and avoid another Ebola-like virus attack, which was still fresh in the minds of the people.

The meeting, which brought together more than 12 first ladies and representatives, partners, donors, and technical advisors, was on the theme: ‘Advancing Sustainable Partnerships to End Paediatric AIDS & Improve Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health & Rights.’

Held twice a year, in January and June, on the sidelines of the African Union Summit, the meeting enables the first ladies to come together to take stock, refocus their commitment and collectively seek ways to overcome the challenges, and identify sustainable and scalable action areas, the statement said.

The statement said the First Lady expressed her appreciation to the other first ladies for their support throughout the meetings. ‘I am confident that together, we can make monumental strides during my tenure of Office.’

She said in furtherance of OAFLA’s pledge in South Africa for an AIDS-free generation, members should embark on a year-long intensive intervention in their respective countries in collaboration with the National AIDS Councils and Commissions, Ministries of Health and UNAIDS of their respective countries.

Mrs Mahama proposed that the focus should be specifically on the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2017, through raising awareness among populations for systematic HIV testing of all pregnant women, their partners, and babies born to HIV positive women.

She also called for advocacy and action for an effective integration of Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) into maternal newborn and child health for efficiency, rapid scale-up and sustainability.

She said there was the need to succeed in extending efforts and commitment beyond EMRICH to end Paediatric AIDS by 2020 towards an AIDS-Free generation in Africa.

She proposed that the first ladies should join efforts to organise a high-level advocacy meeting on Paediatric AIDS within the next few months with their ministers of health, gender and education, parliamentarians and other partners involved in HIV issues for a stronger political and donor engagement.

She also asked them to mobilise resources within their countries, specifically from the private sector, to scale up treatment of children, according to the statement.

She said only 75 per cent of pregnant women living with HIV received antiretroviral for PMTCT in 2014 and only 30 per cent of HIV positive children received treatment while the mother-to-child transmission was no longer an issue in developed countries.

The President of OAFLA said Cuba had already eliminated it and other African countries were on a precipice, therefore, she believed that all OAFLA member countries could and should eliminate mother-to-child transmission by the end of 2017.

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