18 March 2013

East Africa: EAC - Free Movement of Which People?

IF you want to know how far apart Tanzania happens to be from its immediate neighbour; Kenya, just ask any resident of Namanga, the border town separating the two countries.

Even better pick those of Somali origin, living on the Kenyan side of the border, who, as they claim, are not allowed to cross into Tanzania even if it is just for prayers; apparently there is only one mosque serving Namanga and it is on the Tanzanian side. Both Kenya and Tanzania happen to be members of the East African Community, a regional bloc pivoted in Arusha and which comprises of five member states sharing common borderlines, the other three are Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

As far as local politicians are concerned, these countries also share common backgrounds, culture, history and series of non-tariff barriers to trade. Many of these NTBs have reportedly been removed, but this is just on papers as any Namanga resident can attest.

The same papers claim that the EAC member states are already enjoying free movement of people, labour and capital across the five countries because this is what should be happening under their joint 'common market protocol' which was signed nearly three years ago.

The East African Community Common Market may have already been effected as far as the computers at the EAC secretariat in Arusha are concerned, but the free movement of people and labour force that was to be enjoyed under this new agreement is still elusive.

Trade Union experts from Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania who gathered here, last week pointed out that the 130 million East African citizens are still being strictly confined within their respective countries, without the freedom of moving across borders to live or work as easily as it was stipulated in the regional 'Common market protocol.'

"So far it is only Rwanda which is at least inviting people from the other four East African Community Member states to go and work or live in the country, Kenya is also trying to some extent but the other three EA countries continue to slam their gates shut," stated Dr Kassim Meja-Kapalata, from the Trade Union Congress of Tanzania.

Dr Kapalata was on view that the alleged 'free movement of people and labour' entailed under the East African Community 'Common Market Protocol,' which sailed in July 2010 has failed to be realized and continues to face major restrictions and stumbling blocks all over the region.

The local Trade Unionist from TUCTA was among the 12 participants in the ongoing roundtable meeting for Technical Committee experts of the East African Trade Union Congress, which was taking place in Arusha, the seat for EAC, for three days. But Dr Kapalata was also quick to remind that it was important for Tanzania to safeguard its borders because there is the need to protect the local job market in addition to ensuring that newcomers do not plunder the country's natural resources.

And the talk-shop on the other hand, was intending to eventually come up with 'specially developed, EAC Trade Union Common Market Protocol Monitoring Tool, or something. Ms Carolyne Khamati- Mugalla from the East African Trade Unions Congress hit further by saying Kenyans were still regarded as 'foreigners' when venturing into other EA partner states and vice-versa and it was time now for people to realize that East Africans should not be seen as aliens while they are anywhere within the region.

For some reason, Kenya has always been regarded as the 'monster,' the worst of the 'five African evils' that have joined forces to create a regional bloc full of non-tariff barriers. She however lauded Rwanda for being more cooperative in collapsing its borderlines for the sake of welcoming other EA partner state members to invest, work and live in the country.

On his part, Mr Salim Ally Salim from the Zanzibar Trade Union Congress (ZATUC), explained that people in the Isles were still not very sure what the East African Community was, adding that the Arusha-based EAC secretariat need first to put more efforts in raising the community awareness in Unguja and Pemba islands.

A representative from the International Labour Organization (ILO), Mr Frederik Parry, who hails from Ethiopia, reminded that 'Free movement of people and labour' has never been successful anywhere in the world and remains an elusive thing even within the 'European Union' which happens to be the role model of the EAC.

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