African countries have seen the power of their passports decline over the last decade due to political instability and conflict that has affected travel freedom on the continent.
Kenya shared 64th position with Malawi in 2010 and the two countries were leading in the East African region with a visa- free/visa-on-arrival score of 65. A decade later, Malawi and Kenya are a point apart at positions 71 and 72 respectively on the ranking.
The shift in Kenya’s ranking is emblematic of the widening global mobility gap between African countries and other regions featured on the index — which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
However, Kenya still commands a relatively high score in comparison to its East Africa region neighbours, with visa-free/visa-on-arrival access to 71 destinations globally. Research using exclusive historical data from the index has revealed that there is a strongly positive connection between visa freedom and a variety of indicators of economic freedom, government integrity, and personal or political freedom.
Managing Partner and Head of South, Central and East Africa, Amanda Smit, says the implementation of reciprocal visa waivers is the determining factor for upward movement in the global ranking.
“The rankings seem to have dropped but it is not that African countries have lost access - it's that they are remaining static, while other countries are in a position to make mutually beneficial arrangements which add value to their global mobility. All these countries have unchanged scores, but the rankings have shifted. One reason for this shift is that Barbados, Myanmar, and Saudi Arabia have changed their visa policies, giving visa free access to a number of countries, excluding certain African countries.”
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According to the latest ranking, the US and the UK are also continuing on a downward trajectory. While both countries remain in the top 10, their shared 8th-place position is a significant decline from the number one spot they jointly held in 2015.
Elsewhere in the top 10, Finland and Italy share 4th place, with a score of 188, while Denmark, Luxembourg, and Spain together hold 5th place, with a score of 187.
The index’s historic success story remains the UAE, which has climbed a remarkable 47 places over the past 10 years and now sits in 18th place, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 171. Afghanistan remains at the bottom of the index, with access to only 26 destinations worldwide.
Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, Chairman of Henley & Partners, says although people are more mobile than ever before, the latest results also indicate a growing divide when it comes to travel freedom.
“Japanese passport holders able to access 165 more destinations than Afghan nationals. Analysis of our historical data reveals that this extraordinary global mobility gap is the starkest it’s been since the index’s inception in 2006.”
Analysing the index’s historic data, political science researchers Uğur Altundal and Ömer Zarpli, of Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh respectively, have also found a strongly positive correlation between travel freedom and other kinds of liberties – from the economic to the political, and even individual or human freedoms.
They observe that “there’s a distinct correlation between visa freedom and investment freedom, for instance. Similar to trade freedom, European states such as Austria, Malta, and Switzerland that have a business-friendly environment, tend to rank highly when it comes to passport power. Likewise, by using the Human Freedom Index, we have found a strong correlation between personal freedoms such as identity, association and expression, and travel freedom.”