Coronavirus-related travel restrictions are beginning to lift in some countries after more than six months of panic and uncertainty.
The resumption of international cross-border travel may appear to be a signal that things are slowly returning to normal, but as the latest research from the Henley Passport Index — based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — shows, the pandemic has completely upended the seemingly unshakeable hierarchy of global mobility that has dominated the last few decades, with more change still to come.
At the beginning of the year, for instance, the US passport was ranked in 6th position on the Henley Passport Index — the original ranking of all the world's passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa — and Americans could travel hassle-free to 185 destinations around the world. Since then, that number has dropped dramatically by over 100, with US passport holders currently able to access fewer than 75 destinations, with the most popular tourist and business centers notably excluded. As criticism of the country’s pandemic response continues to mount, and with the US presidential election just weeks away, the precipitous decline of US passport power and American travel freedom is seen as a clear indication of its altered status in the eyes of the international community.
Other significant changes in the once-solid global mobility hierarchy paint an equally vivid picture of the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. At the beginning of 2020, the Singapore passport was ranked 2nd globally, with passport holders able to access an unprecedented 190 destinations globally. However, under the current travel restrictions, Singaporeans can travel to fewer than 80 destinations around the world.
Unsurprisingly, those countries whose coronavirus responses have been criticized for being inadequate have taken the greatest knock when it comes to the travel freedom of their citizens. Brazilian passport holders were able to access 170 destinations without acquiring a visa in advance in January. Currently, approximately only 70 destinations are accessible. The decline in mobility and passport power for countries such as India and Russia have been less dramatic, but nevertheless indicative of an overall shift. Russian citizens had access to 119 destinations prior to the Covid-19 outbreak but can currently travel to fewer than 50. At the beginning of the year, Indian passport holders could travel to 61 destinations without a visa but due to virus-related restrictions, they currently have access to fewer than 30.
Without taking the various pandemic-related travel bans and restrictions into account, Japan continues to hold the number one spot on the Henley Passport Index, with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 191. Singapore remains in 2nd place, with a score of 190, while Germany and South Korea are tied 3rd, each with a score of 189. EU member states continue to perform best overall, with countries from the bloc taking up most of the spots in the index’s top 10.
Commenting on the pandemic’s impact on global mobility, Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, Chairman of Henley & Partners and the inventor of the passport index concept, says recent developments represent an era-defining shift. “For citizens of wealthy and democratic countries such as Canada, the UK, the US, and Western European nations, travel freedom is something that has been taken for granted for decades. The pandemic has abruptly changed this, and with the significant loss of access and privilege has come a re-evaluation. As countries around the world battle to manage a new category of risk, there’s been a shift away from travel freedom being regarded as the prerogative of nationals with once-powerful passports, towards a realization that it is now a necessary luxury for those wishing to access first-class education, business opportunities, and quality healthcare for themselves and their families.”
Ongoing restrictions, Brexit, and the ‘new normal’
While Covid-19 has shifted attention away from issues such as Brexit and the US’s controversial migration policies, experts point out that their probable impact has not lessened. Robert McNeil, Deputy Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, says that even though the pandemic has exploded the concept of ‘business as usual’, a dramatic Brexit finale still looms on the horizon. “Whatever the final form of the UK’s departure from the EU, it is likely to affect migration. After the 2016 referendum, the depreciation of the pound reduced the UK’s attractiveness to EU workers ¾ something that may recur if Brexit rattles financial markets further. Meanwhile, increased restrictions on EU migrants’ access to the UK labor market are set to be implemented as new rules under the 2020 immigration bill. It seems inevitable these will lead to a fall in EU migration to the UK.”
Dr. Parag Khanna, founder and managing partner of FutureMap, says that increasingly restrictive migration policies have encouraged many people to seek out a Plan B, in the form of a second residence or even a change of nationality. “Even prior to the pandemic, Brexit had pushed British professionals to seek German, French, Spanish, and other EU nationalities based on lineage, or to pursue residency leading to citizenship in countries such as Portugal. Americans have availed themselves of similar options in countries ranging from Canada to Malta. Recent estimates suggest that interest in investment migration programs has jumped five-fold from 2019 through mid-2020.”
Greg Lindsay, Director of Applied Research at NewCities, points to the rise of so-called “digital nomads” as another sign of adaptation to crisis and uncertainty, particularly regarding the results of the upcoming US election. “After the pandemic hit, overnight the world’s knowledge workers became temporary professional nomads, and the disparity between national responses threw into stark relief the comparative advantages of alternative citizenship — especially for Americans suddenly locked out of much of the world.”
Embracing new safeguards in an age of uncertainty
Dr. Juerg Steffen, CEO of Henley & Partners, says there is no question that the volatility of 2020 has boosted the appeal of investment migration for an increasingly wide range of people, from an increasingly wide array of countries. “Fascinatingly, we have seen unprecedented interest in residence- and citizenship-by-investment programs from citizens of developed economies, particularly the US. In fact, there was a startling 238% increase in enquiries from Americans between January and mid-September 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. The events of this year have demonstrated that we cannot predict the future, but for those high-net-worth investors who want to ensure they are well prepared for the next major disruption, alternative residence or citizenship is increasingly seen as an indispensable asset and a vital hedge against ongoing volatility.”
UK retail chain Tesco has suspended the purchase of avocados from multinational Kakuzi and its majority shareholder Camellia Plc, following a class action suit levelling accusations of gross human rights violations in and around their 42,000-acre Murang’a plantation.
Britain's biggest grocery retailer announced the move after law firm Leigh Day said Sunday it had initiated legal action against UK firm Camellia, whose subsidiary runs the site.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 79 Kenyans at London's High Court, accuses the subsidiary Kakuzi of employing security guards alleged to have perpetrated horrific abuses since 2009.
They include killings, rape, attacks and false imprisonment.
Leigh Day said former Kakuzi employees at the 54-square-mile (140-square kilometres) plantation in central Kenya, which is also a major source of macadamia nuts, pineapples and timber, are among the 79 claimants.
Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, which first reported on the legal action, said Kakuzi supplies avocados to several UK supermarkets, including Sainsbury's and Tesco.
A Tesco spokesperson said: "Any form of human rights abuse in our supply chain is unacceptable.
"We have been working closely with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), alongside other ETI members, to investigate this issue and ensure measures have been taken to protect workers.
"However, in light of additional allegations published, we have suspended all supply whilst we urgently investigate."
Sainsbury's told the Sunday Times: "We continue to work closely with other UK retailers and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) to urgently investigate and address these reports."
Tesco’s move is expected to rally other retailers in dumping Kakuzi, whose parent firm Camellia risks paying billions owing to a class action suit by 79 Kenyans who were assaulted, raped or had their relatives murdered in the Murang’a plantation.
Tesco is one of Kakuzi’s biggest clients as it sources thousands of the Murang’a-grown avocados every year. The supermarket said it does not condone any form of human rights abuse in its retail chain and that it has been working with various authorities to weed out any such actions by its suppliers.
Details of the class action suit were first published by The Times, a UK paper, on Sunday. The court papers paint a gory picture of horror and impunity, as security guards in the plantation seemingly did whatever they wished to Murang’a residents as police officers covered up any attempts to bring culprits to book.
In 2013, a 51-year-old woman was collecting firewood in Rwanda Forest within the 42,000-acre plantation when she was stopped by a security guard who accused her of theft.
The security guard tried to grab a rope the woman had, and while they were still struggling, he kicked her and she fell to the ground. The guard then removed her clothes and raped her before leaving her on the ground.
The woman tried to report the matter to the police, who asked her to go home and return the following day. When she returned, she was told to come back the following day.
Eventually she asked the officers why they were reluctant to take up the case and she was told it was her fault she was raped because she “was disturbing Kakuzi”.
Feeling helpless the woman went home and dropped her quest for justice. A year later, she started feeling unwell and went to hospital where she was diagnosed with HIV.
Four years later, a 58-year-old woman found herself in a similar situation after walking for 45 minutes to Rwanda Forest. She met two security guards who demanded a bribe to let her continue collecting firewood.
When the woman said she had no money, they took turns raping her before ordering her to leave. Just over a month after the incident, the woman sought medical assistance and was also diagnosed with HIV.
At least 10 other women also contracted HIV in similar circumstances, documents filed in the UK courts and seen by the Nation reveal.
On Monday, Kakuzi Plc issued a statement insisting that very few of the 79 claims had been reported to local authorities and that the publication of a story by The Times is part of a smear campaign against it and its clients.
The firm says it has asked Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji to order an investigation into the claims. Camellio’s sister companies Linton Park Plc and Robertson Bois Dickson Anderson Ltd have been enjoined in the suit as they provided managerial support to Kakuzi.
At least seven Kakuzi Plc workers are among claimants in the suit.
The workers were accused of theft, beaten brutally before being taken to the police station and finally, court. Even though the cases against them collapsed, they incurred heavy medical bills to treat the effects of the violence.
Kakuzi is registered in Kenya, with Camellia holding a 50.7 per cent stake. Camellia, a global conglomerate which employs 78,000 people worldwide, said in a statement it bought that stake in Kakuzi in the 1990s but that it did not have "operational or managerial control".
"Kakuzi is investigating the allegations so that if there has been any wrongdoing, those responsible for it can be held to account and if appropriate, safeguarding processes can be improved," it added.
Kakuzi was initially served with a demand notice indicating that the Kenyan operation would be enjoined in the suit, but the 79 claimants eventually opted to only go for Camellia, Linton Park and Robertson Bois Dickson Anderson.
UK-based law firm Leigh Day is representing the 79 claimants, with the support of the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO).
The law firm filed the case on June 27, 2019 and served the documents on Camellia on July 10, 2020.
Camellia and its sister companies are yet to file responses. After being made aware of the intention to sue last year, Camellia and Kakuzi sought an out-of-court settlement on condition that the identities of the complainants were revealed.
It also insisted that all cases must be withdrawn before the parties pursue alternative dispute resolution processes.
After Camellia claimed that Leigh Day and its clients rejected alternative dispute resolution, the law firm said that the British multinational is the one unwilling to use a process that will be safe to the complainants.
“Second, it is the victims who have insisted on anonymity since they fear reprisals by Kakuzi guards and others. They have offered to disclose their identities to the defendants in a manner which allows the claims to be investigated but which meets their security concerns. Camellia has flatly refused this and insists that the identities of the victims should be disclosed without any safeguards,” Leigh Day said in a statement.
The UK lawsuit has reopened the controversy into Kakuzi’s land lease, which expires in 2022. Kakuzi has filed a case to stop the National Land Commission’s (NLC) historical land injustice committee from looking into eight complaints filed by different groups against its leases.
The NLC committee suspended hearings pending the outcome of Kakuzi’s case, but ordered that the lease not be renewed until the complaints are determined. Kakuzi has challenged the NLC order as well in court.
Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria said the legal provisions spelt out in the Constitution must be adhered to in granting lease renewals in the county, saying the current stalemate that involves Del Monte has to be settled through an all-inclusive dialogue.
Land rights crusader Phillip Kamau, who chairs the Kandara Residents Association, said Kakuzi occupies 42,000 acres of prime land, whereas Del Monte occupies 22,500 acres, all committed to 99 years lease.
“Kakuzi has since gone to court to restrict our agitation to auditing its lease even when we are aware that it has 20,000 of the holding being idle. We have leased land to them, which they do not require … the same case with Del Monte which does not utilise 12,000 acres,” he said.
Source: The Nation / AFP
Nigeria is to go ahead with a plan to rehabilitate the narrow-gauge railway between Port Harcourt, on the Atlantic coast, and Maiduguri on the border with Chad, a distance of around 1,000km.
The plan was announced by Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of transport, in September. On Wednesday, he told reporters that it had received official approval.
Amaechi said: “The Federal Executive Council has approved the award of contracts for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri narrow-gauge railway, with new branch lines and transshipment facilities.”
He added that the council had also approved the construction of a deep-sea port in Bonny and a railway industrial park in Port Harcourt.
According to the minister, the reconstruction of the railways would cost around $3bn. The industrial park is expected to cost $240m and the port $480m. These last two projects would be developed as public–private partnerships “at no cost to the federal government”.
The port at Bonny will have a rail connection to the Port Harcourt line. Other connections will be built to Owerri, the capital of Imo State, and Kafanchan in Kaduna State.
In the past, the 1,067mm gauge line between Port Harcourt and Maiduguri was known as the “eastern line”. The main and branch lines cover a distance of about 3,500km, and before it fell into disuse relied on a semaphore signalling system.