Stricter visa requirements limit visibility of African artists

Yemi Alade denied of Canadian visa

Travel restrictions and visa requirements are making it increasingly difficult for Africans to travel and transit through Europe. This is due to a combination of factors, including high Schengen visa rejection rates, opaque visa requirements, and stereotyping of certain racial backgrounds as more risky travelers.

Opaque requirements

African travelers are often subjected to indignities when traveling abroad, with stories of being required to meet opaque requirements or being subjected to travel humiliations being common.

Emma Nzioka, a Kenyan performer and DJ known as Coco Em, was recently told she could not board her flight from Kenya to Cape Verde unless she bought a return ticket with the same airline to prove she would return home. This is despite the fact that Nzioka was transiting through Amsterdam and had a return ticket with another airline. The airline officials openly expressed skepticism over her “relationship” with her country of transit.

Nzioka’s experience is not unique, as many African travelers have faced similar barriers to travel. Nigerian Afropop star Yemi Alade, for example, was denied a Canadian visa for the International Africa Nights festival due to “financial reasons” and fears that the artist would “not want to leave Canada”.

Nigerian popstar Yemi Alade music video

Most African countries are in the bottom half of the global passports ranking, and people from African countries need to obtain visas for more than 100 countries.

To get a Schengen visa, a host of documents is required, including bank statements, return flights, addresses while abroad, and travel insurance policies. However, the threshold for meeting these requirements is often very high, and changes dramatically.

Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, and Nigeria are the top three countries with the highest Schengen visa rejection rates, with rejection rates of 53%, 52%, and 51%, respectively.

Missed shows

Nzioka has missed shows in the UK due to stringent visa requirements, which include proof of property ownership in one’s home country. African nationals looking to visit the UK for professional or business reasons experience more than twice the refusal rate of other nationalities. Such requirements can limit the visibility of African artists, with few African female DJs touring in Europe.

The stereotyping of certain travelers with different racial backgrounds as inherently more risky is a major problem. Nzioka believes that officials stereotyped her, a dark-skinned woman with long braids, when her passport was seized when traveling to Tunisia through Italy for another festival in 2019. She was questioned for three hours by five different people about her visa and why she did not take a direct route. The officials recounted instances where women had eloped with foreign men or settled illegally in Europe, implying that Nzioka was also a risk.

“The perception is that certain travelers with different racial backgrounds are inherently more risky because of who they are”.

Nanjala Nyabola, author of Travelling While Black

The travel restrictions and visa requirements are limiting the mobility and opportunities of African travelers and artists, who face significant barriers to travel and performing abroad.

The need for reform and increased awareness of the issue is urgent, as it is essential to promote freedom of movement and equal opportunities for all travelers, regardless of their racial background or country of origin.