Despite South Africa being the wealthiest country in Africa in 2023 – with the third-strongest passport on the continent – it offers poor economic mobility to its growing private wealth looking for financial stability, offering only 15% access to the global GDP visa-free.

This is according to the Africa Wealth Report 2023, which analysed the passport power and economic mobility of Africa’s wealthiest countries and their citizens – presented by the director of Economic Research and Statistics at the Islamic Development Bank (ISDB) Institute, Dr Areef Suleman.

“More than just a travel document, our passports can define our financial freedoms regarding access to international investment and business opportunities,” said Suleman.

This narrative came to light during the Covid-19 pandemic, which revealed the disparate impacts of global shocks due to country-specific differences.

As a result, cross-country access and mobility are increasingly viewed as an insurance policy against economic and political uncertainties that persist in the current precarious global landscape.

“Consequently, investors and businesspeople are looking for ways to ensure a steady stream of profits and stable consumption in unpredictable times, and economic mobility in terms of visa-free access to more stable and larger economies is one way to achieve this objective,” said Suleman.

To quantify this, the report focused on the Henley Passport Power score. This newly developed term indicates the percentage of global GDP each passport provides to its holders visa-free – and what emerges is an “unequivocal link between passport strength and economic power,” noted Suleman.

This metric combines Henley Passport Index data and the World Bank’s GDP data, ranking all 199 passports according to their power score.

When viewed through this lens, the citizens of Africa’s wealthiest countries have low passport power and poor economic mobility.

Regarding passport power – looking at the number of countries that can be accessed visa-free – Seychelles is ranked on top in Africa, giving its passport holders access to 153 countries.

Mauritius follows this in second and South Africa in third, giving their passport holders access to 146 and 106 countries, respectively, visa-free.

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