Ghana closed its air, land and sea borders on March 22 in a bid to contain the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. At that time, it had recorded 24 cases. Following months of developing rapid testing capacity and executing policy interventions to mitigate the economic and health effects of the epidemic, the West African country reopened the Kotoka International Airport for international operations on September 1, 2020.
The new development comes with new rules. Passengers are allowed entry as long as they wear masks and present negative results of COVID-19 PCR tests issued within 72 hours prior to their landing in Ghana. Apart from this, a particular detail that has caught the public’s eye is the required payment of a $150 fee for mandatory testing to be conducted on each passenger upon landing in Ghana. According to the Managing Director of Ghana Airports Company Limited, Yaw Kwakwa, the test has a 99% to 100% accuracy rate. Results will be released within 30 minutes of sample collection. It is only after passengers have tested negative that they are allowed to leave the airport. Those who test positive will be handed over to the health authorities.
The stringency is to ensure the country does not end up importing the new coronavirus infections. The Nana Akufo-Addo administration has been pro-active so far: it has conducted 442,185 tests, considerably more than Nigeria’s 403,407 despite having less than a sixth of Nigeria’s population. It does not end there. Ghana’s recovery rate is 97% while Nigeria lags behind at 77.1%. These numbers have boosted Accra’s confidence in its ability to manage the pandemic even while allowing foreigners travel in.
This flight resumption is good news for different reasons: the aviation industry is expected to bounce back, those who have crucial business transactions will gain entry and foreign students can finally return to their schools. Nigerian students have an established presence in the Ghana. Taking advantage of the problems of the Nigerian university system, Ghana’s universities have aggressively courted Nigerian students in the last 20 years. The former Nigerian Minister of Youth Development, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, revealed in 2017 that Nigerian students spend N300 billion on tertiary education in Ghana every year, though some more conservative estimates put the numbers at N179.46 billion. Either way, that is still an impressive figure compared to the N152 billion and N198 billion Nigerian students spend annually in the United Kingdom and United States respectively.
The favourite universities for Nigerians include the University of Ghana, the University of Cape Coast, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, the University of Professional Studies and Ashesi University. Their strategies some of them employ to get students from Nigeria include paying existing students who are able to invite friends and families to study in Ghana a commission.
Nigerian businesses and entrepreneurs are significant investors in Ghana. Between 1994 and 2011, Nigerian firms invested $6.1 billion in Ghana’s economy. Though there has been some controversy of late, with Ghana shutting down 1,150 Nigerian-owned businesses in the past three years and devising a $1 million levy on immigrant traders targeted at Nigerians, the impact of Nigerians in the Ghanaian economy cannot be understated.
Another sector that is to benefit from the opening of borders is tourism. In 2019, the industry generated revenue worth $3.312 billion, buoyed by the so-called Year of Return, a successful campaign designed to lure African-American tourists to Ghana. Nigerian tourists have taken a liking to picturesque tourist destinations like Labadi Pleasure Beach, Kokrobite Beach, Kukum National Park and the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park.
Having suffered a 10.6% year on year economic decline thanks to the pandemic, Ghana can no longer afford to hold back on maximizing all options for revenue generation. Thus, international flight resumption is welcome relief for the economy.