Rwanda on the rise: With foreign investment pouring in, could its passport power soon exceed top African players?


When it comes to most powerful passports in the world, we know the players. It was recently reported that Japan and Singapore will hold onto the top spot on the Henley Passport Index, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 189.

This latest ranking of passport power and global mobility – which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – marks the culmination of an 18-month long winning streak for both countries, after they unseated Germany from its long-held 1st position at the beginning of 2018.

South Korea now sits in 2nd place on the index along with Finland and Germany, with citizens of all three countries able to access 187 destinations around the world without a prior visa. Finland’s ascent from 3rd to 2nd place is due to recent changes to Pakistan’s formerly highly restrictive visa policy. 

But who might be moving up the ranks on the African and South American continents in terms of global mobility? Strengthening diplomatic relations with its current approach to visa-openness, economic control, and social progress, countries like Rwanda and Brazil are pumping up their passport power. 

READ: Roaming Rwanda: Your Kigali checklist 

Discussing the shift towards visa liberalisation within the African continent, Ryan Cummings, Director of Signal Risk, says: “The nexus between border openness and economic performance on the African continent has been exemplified by Rwanda. Last year, it was one of the countries to receive the highest degree of foreign direct investment.“

In explaining the country’s performance in this regard, Rwandan Minister of Trade and Industry, Soraya Hakuziyaremye, linked it to their robust visa openness policy, noting that Rwanda – which initiated a visa-on-arrival policy for citizens of all African countries in the beginning of 2018 – views freedom of movement as a vital component for economic integration.”

Currently, Rwanda ranks 89th in the world with access to 55 visa-free destinations compared to South Africa's 101 and Botswana's 82. Nigeria sits at 45. 

Commenting on this approach considering the growing connections between African countries and Middle Eastern states, particularly in the Gulf, Froilan Malit, an Associate at the Gulf Labour Markets, Migration, and Population (GLMM) program and a Fellow at Centre International de Formation des Autorités et Leaders (CIFAL), says:

“By establishing deeper relationships with these states, African countries are not only able to secure trade and investment benefits and employment opportunities for their nationals locally and in the Gulf countries, but also to develop stronger diplomatic relations.

READ: 101 countries South Africans can visit without a visa 

“These particular strategies can have transformative effects on Africa’s economic growth and development, and may play an essential role to rapidly modernise their economy, trade, and investments in the long term."

But Brazil is also exemplary in terms of visa-openness as it has implemented a visa waiver for citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, and the US. Experts predicts that this approach in visa policy might have similar effects and strengthen diplomatic relations.

Dr. Parag Khanna, Founder and Managing Partner of FutureMap and author of The Future Is Asian: Global Order in the Twenty-first Century, says, “Brazil’s new government has come in at a time of economic crisis and seeks to accelerate an economic rebound. It needs to send a signal that it is open for business and cleaning up. Despite years of opposition to visa waivers for countries such as the US on a non-reciprocal basis, it seems Brazil has now caved in. To attract the capital and investor interest the country needs as part of its turnaround, it has taken this step to open up to important capital exporters such as Canada, Japan, and the US.”

Brazil currently has a whopping 169 visa-free destinations and is ranked 18th on the Henley Passport Index

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