9 January 2014

East Africa: EAC Common Market, Going From Strength to Strength

After being adopted and signed by the East African Community (EAC) Heads of State on November 20, 2009 in Arusha, Tanzania, the EAC Common Market has continued to grow year after year on all fronts.

The Protocol on the establishment of the East African Community (EAC) Common Market entered into force on July 1, 2010, following ratification by all the five EAC partner states, and 2013 has been a fruitful year as far as implementing various programs related to the Common Market are concerned.

Among the major developments was the agreement between Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda to start using national identity cards as travel documents, at the end of a-two-day meeting between the three Presidents in Kigali early August.

This followed a similar summit in Entebbe, Uganda on June 25, where among other things, the Heads of State agreed to speed up the integration process among the three countries.

The resolution for using national ID's as travel documents was adopted by Rwanda's Minister of Local Government, James Musoni, Joseph Ole Lenku, Kenya's Minister of Interior and Coordinator of National Government and Minister of State of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities, Agnes Egunyu Akrol. Having come into effect on January 1, the measure enables citizens of the three countries to spend up to six months in a participating country using only their ID card.

"The use of national identity cards as travel documents will act as a means of facilitating free movement of people and will also enhance social cohesion among the EAC population in the three countries" Minister Musoni said.

He further observed that using IDs as travel documents will also enable the citizens of the three states to explore opportunities in the wider EAC market, to share best practices in business transactions and to improve their socioeconomic transformation.

Currently, only Rwandan and Kenyan citizens have national identity cards but according to the agreement, Ugandans will be allowed to use voters' cards, student identification cards, temporary movement permits and passports as travel documents while IDs are being prepared.

Regarding the question why the measure only applies to three of the five EAC countries, Minister Musoni noted that the EAC common market protocol stipulates that any of the EAC countries are allowed to develop aspects of the integration plan even if others are not yet ready. He added that the three countries will do their best to ensure that Burundi and Tanzania also come on board.

Scrapping off work permit fees

During their meeting in April in Kigali, members of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) passed a motion urging the EAC partner states to scrap work permit fees. The lawmakers passed the motion after a debate with the Council of Ministers.

The chairperson of the Council of Ministers, Shem Bageine, called for immediate implementation of the resolution by partner states, saying that this will highly facilitate the free movement of East Africans within the region.

Issue concerning work permit fees has always been regarded as a non tariff barrier and a stumbling block towards the full operation of the Common Market Protocol that includes facilitating movement of labor.

The fees charged for work permits vary between partner states as each EAC member states. For instance, in Tanzania, a permit costs between $6.34 and $3,000 while in Uganda it goes from $250 to $2,500. Burundi charges between $ 60 and $84 for a regular worker.

The scrapping of work permit fees was first applied between Rwanda and Kenya bilaterally, before Kigali later extended it to the citizens from the other partner states. Although citizens of EAC member states living in Kigali need to apply for the work permit, they will get them without paying a fee.

The establishment of the East African Community Common Market is in line with the provisions of the EAC Treaty. It provides for "Four Freedoms," namely the free movement of goods, labor, services and capital.

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