4 November 2012

East Africa Gets Ready for Common Visa

Photo: Business Daily
Kenyan tourism.

THE East African Community is finalising plans for a single destination visa that will offer tourists to the region an opportunity to visit different parts of East Africa.

This is among measures being undertaken jointly by East African states to attract visitors and investors to the region. The Secretary General of the East African Community, Dr Richard Sezibera, said at an investment conference in Germany over the weekend that the measures include encouraging innovation and facilitating the establishment of enterprises such as business process outsourcing centres; creating opportunity for development of mobile applications and systems; and fast-tracking the transposition of national laws that contradict the Common Market spirit.

The two-day conference in Berlin brought together representatives from the EAC and the German business and commercial community. The Community is also developing a protocol on good governance that is intended to set standards and benchmarks. The scope of the proposal, Dr Sezibera said, covers promotion and protection of human rights, adherence to the rule of law and access to justice, democracy and elections, mobilization of key stakeholders and combating corruption.

"Deepening EAC integration requires an environment that is peaceful and stable to promote investment and trade in the region. Internal conflicts of whatever form, be they conflicts over shared resources or electoral, require an intra regional mechanism that is privy to the context of the region and the conflict itself," said Dr Sezibera in a speech availed to the Independent East African News Agency (EANA).

Dr Sezibera said focus is being placed on upgrading and modernising the current 8,100-km railway network, in addition to extending it to other parts of East Africa. He pointed out that an additional 5,000km of railway line is expected to be added in the near future when the Lamu- Juba/Addis and the Isaka-Kigali/ Keza projects are completed. These projects are estimated to cost $29 billion, which includes rehabilitation of the existing lines, gauge upgrade and purchase of the right of way.

In the lake zone, the EAC is now trying to fully exploit its gold resources, which interface with some world famous tourist attractions. Other measures are to implement the East African Road Network Project across the region and to complete several projects currently underway aimed at building a reliable power supply capacity.

"New energy discoveries in the region have increased the opportunities in the energy sector. Expected oil reserves in Uganda of 2.5 billion barrels, Tanzania with 3-7 trillion cubic feet of gas and the recently announced discovery of oil in Kenya all conspire to make a case for East Africa being the next investment destination for infrastructure," said Dr Sezibera.

The Community, he added, has signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the United States - the first one as a bloc - and is currently negotiating upgrading the bilateral trade and investment treaty. This is in addition to duty-free access to the US market under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act as well as the European Union's Everything But Arms initiative, under which all products from least developed Countries except arms and ammunitions have preferential access to the EU Market.

As a result of all these efforts, Dr Sezibera said, the World Bank's Doing Business 2012 report singles out the EAC as "one of the fastest reforming regions in the world." "The report acknowledges the progress made by the EAC partner states in making the business environment better over the past five years. EAC intra-regional trade also rose to 23 per cent of the total value of exports, the highest of all the African regional economic communities," Dr Sezibera said.

The German State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) Hans Jurgen Beerfeltz said that East Africa was on right course to change the economic perceptions of the region. "Germany can provide best practices to realise the opportunities that exist in East Africa," he said, adding that his country looked at the African continent positively for mutual benefit.

In his speech, Ambassador of Kenya to Germany, Ken Nyauncho Osinde, who is the chair of the EAC Community Ambassadors in Germany, urged the region to further promote as a single tourist destination. He assured the EAC Ambassadors desire to do all it could to deepen the friendly ties that exist with the Federal Republic of Germany.

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