, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 27- Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed has said the government is working to resolve the diplomatic spat with South Africa over visa restrictions by the end of September.
Mohamed revealed that she will travel to South Africa next month to hold discussions with the South African government to ensure the two countries have fair visa regimes. She noted that if the tensions continued it would hurt the economic relationship between the two countries.
“The meeting is scheduled before the United Nations General Assembly – not after or during – because the intention of the government is to get a clear direction by the end of September,” Mohamed said on Wednesday morning during a media briefing on the status of Kenya’s economic diplomacy.
If the discussions don’t bear fruit, she added, Kenya will go ahead and impose its visa restrictions on South Africans which were announced in April and were to take effect on September 1.
“They will either have to remove the restrictions they have placed on us so that we are at the same level or we are going to impose the exact requirements that they require of us,” Mohamed emphasised.
The Kenyan government has recently received heavy criticism from its concerned citizens after it suspended its visa restrictions against South Africa which were to come into effect in July this year.
But Mohamed maintained that the move was to allow visitors from South African who had made their travel arrangements way before the new rules were imposed by Kenya, to travel with ease.
“It was a group of professionals who had planned to travel to Kenya nine months ago. They had done everything, paid for their travel, tickets, and it was a big group. Tourism players requested that we allow them in because of the current drop in the industry, as we continue with our talks,” she clarified.
“These people were actually coming in this last week and this week during the migration (at the Maasai Mara).”
Kenya introduced the strict visa rules on the principle of reciprocity after South Africa overhauled its visa applications regime in December last year.
Both countries have their visa regulations drawing a clear distinction between short-stay visas and long-stay permanent residence permits.
At the moment a Kenyan applying for a South African visa of up to 30 days stay is required to pay at least Sh5,800 as ‘service charge’ and up to Sh12,000 for a visa of more than 30 days.
On the other hand if Kenya imposes its requirements, South Africans will also pay up to Sh6,000 for a 30-day visa, among their restrictions. They will also be required to make a physical appearance at the Kenyan embassy.
Earlier on, Kenyans would get a free visa if they were staying for less than 30 days in South Africa but required no visa if they were transiting through any South African airports while South Africans did not require a visa for a 30-day stay in Kenya.