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Ruto Visa-free policy hits a snag

Under the new regulations African tourists coming into Kenya are required to apply for an Electronic Travel Authorization-ETA. Travellers will now be required to pay $30 to renew their permits every three months.



President William Ruto’s announcement of a Visa free policy for all African travelers was met with jubilance across the continent and expected to promote commerce and shore up tourism revenues across the region. But the directive that took effect on the 1st of January 2024 is now in question with travelers having to contend with fresh charges and paperwork to get their permits.

All tourists coming in to the country were previously required to pay $50 for multiple entry visas that were valid for at least 5 years. But the new raft of measures has seen at least 60,000 African tourists who’ve come in to the country pay $30 for ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) permits valid for only three months. This means that it now costs almost four times as much for tourists to get annual visitation permits. In a report filed by the BBC, several tourists took issue with the new regulations that saw some miss their flights and incur additional travel costs.

Kenyan immigration lawyer Davis Nyagah believes that the ETA is essentially a “visa under another name”. “From a legal perspective, there is no difference between an ETA and a visa. The only difference is that Kenya will no longer put the visa sticker in your passport,” he told the BBC. Under the new regulations, only citizens from the East African Community (EAC) are exempt from the charges. Tourists are required to produce their flight details and proof of a hotel booking in order to get approval for travel.

With the President Ruto coming increasingly under pressure on account of his administrations tax policies, Kenya’s ETA policy is now facing scrutiny and has since been labeled part of the administration’s revenue collection strategy. But the policy is however not unique to Kenya. Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain and the United States are amongst a few countries in west that require all travelers to apply for similar documentation.

Amidst the rising threat of terrorism across the globe, the system has by and large been a crucial part of the infrastructure in tightening security in major airports and border crossings. Kenya Kwanza press secretary Salim Swaleh told the BBC that the ETA was necessary for vetting travellers. “Terrorism is one of the global threats at the moment, so we need mechanisms to ensure everyone who is coming to Kenya is [not a risk] to the country,” he said.

Government spokesperson Issac Maigua Mwaura has since admitted that the system is currently undergoing some transitional challenges but assured that the government was keen on ironing out the kinks to ease travel into the country. Economic experts say the issue if left unchecked could have a negative impact on the country’s economy in the short term as foreign investors and tourists continue to grapple with the country’s already harsh economic climate.

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