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Kenya-South Africa visa rules row in focus as Ramaphosa visits

Passport control and flight transfer signage at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Strict Visa restrictions for Kenyans visiting South Africa are again set to dominate talks when South African leader President Cyril Ramaphosa visits his Kenyan counterpart William Ruto this week. 

South Africa’s Presidential Spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said last week President Ramaphosa would embark on a State visit to Kenya this Wednesday. 

The visit follows an invitation to the South African leader by President Ruto. It will include a business forum, focusing on trade and investment between the two countries. 

Mr Magwenya says the visit is also aimed at strengthening relations between the two countries. 

“According to the World Bank, Kenya is east Africa’s largest economy and gateway to the region with a GDP that stands at over $110 billion (Sh12 trillion) as of 2021. Kenya is South Africa’s largest trading partner outside of the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region, making South Africa the biggest seller of goods to Kenya on the continent,” he was quoted as saying. 

South Africa last year inked a deal to deport all illegal migrants to Kenya as part of a deal to relax strict Visa restrictions for Kenyans. 

Under the deal brokered by retired President Uhuru Kenyatta and President Ramaphosa following a State visit to the country last year, it will now be the responsibility of Nairobi to block all illegal migrants from entering South Africa from Kenya. 

Nairobi is also required to take back the deported illegal migrants from South Africa who enter the country from Kenya, shifting the burden of curbing the flow of illegal migrants to Nairobi. 

South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said Kenya and South Africa reached the deportation deal amid an increase of people driving to South Africa from Kenya. 

“We have now signed agreements on returning illegal entrants, so now we are moving towards granting an e-visa, which we have piloted in India and which is working quite well,” she was quoted saying by local South African media at the time. 

“We have been saying to Kenya, ‘you have a responsibility to stop people’ because if you’re an asylum seeker, the first country they come to should be the one they remain in. They shouldn’t be crossing borders. We have agreed that we can send (people) back if there is clear proof that they have been through Kenya.” 

The visa restrictions, which have remained a thorny issue for the two countries, include a Sh5,350 processing fee, with visas taking at least five working days to process.

Kenyan visa applicants must also provide sufficient proof of funds and return flight air tickets, among other requirements.  South African nationals, on the other hand, have it easier as they can get a Kenyan visa for free on arrival to the country. 

Kenya and South Africa set up a committee to deal with difficulties related to visas during retired President Kenyatta’s visit last year.  “The two leaders directed the respective ministers to ensure implementation of agreements and MoUs executed, and decisions taken,” said a joint communique after the meeting.  

South Africa exported Sh45.7 billion worth of goods to Kenya in 2020, against imports from Kenya of Sh3.48 billion, signalling trade is heavily skewed in favour of South Africa amid the restrictions. 

Kenya Airways and South African Airways also signed a strategic partnership framework to work together to increase passenger traffic, cargo opportunities and trade by taking advantage of strengths in South Africa, Kenya and the rest of Africa. 

On trade and investment, both leaders agreed to increase the volume and composition of bilateral trade as well as investing more in each other’s economies. 

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