15 February 2014

East Africa: How to Increase Mobility in Eastern Africa

Eastern Africa (stretching North easterly to Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti and South westerly covering Tanzania) has seen the launch of different ambitious infrastructural projects in the last few years.

They range from Lapsset to the Kenya-Uganda-Rwanda railway within the northern corridor amongst other bilateral projects.

For instance there's a project between Ethiopia and Somaliland (Berbera-Hargeisa-Togowachale) in the Berbera-Addis Ababa corridor and the Djibouti-Addis Ababa corridor that may soon extend to South Sudan and Uganda.

This is a welcome move that is aimed to facilitate trade and enhance integration of the sub region. According to UNCTAD, intra-Africa trade stands at a paltry 10-11 per cent, rather low compared to the European Union's whooping 63 per cent in 2012.

A key factor for growth in trade is mobility of people. In the increasingly digital world we live in, online sales are a reality but still drones are not delivering goods within eastern Africa. Most traders move with their goods and especially the small scale cross borders.

There are many other non-tariff barriers to intra-regional trade that are being addressed in the sub region; however the inability to move has not received as much attention yet it remains a key hindrance.

Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas) is perfoming way better compared to Eastern Africa in this regard. It's common to see Nigerian traders in Cotonou markets or even in Dakar and vice versa.

People are moving easily within the Regional Economic Community with the Ecowas passport to the extent of realising the right to establishment as provided for in the Ecowas Free Movement Protocol; this in a region that has seen its fair share of instability and related insecurity.

There are many reasons some varied given especially by the security sector on the importance to check mobility including porous borders, increase in trasnational crimes like terrorism and drug trafficking, human trafficking all of which naturally involve movement of people. These crimes have however not been completely wiped out even in the current environment of stringent immigration regimes the world over.

For us in eastern Africa who are keen to integrate, we will not unlock the potential of the region if people cannot move. It is not enough to have superhighways or efficient railway systems, for whom are these meant? It is a known fact that people follow infrastructre and infrastructure also follows people.

Once LAPSSET is completed, I envision a trader moving from Lamu via Moyale to Juba, seemlessly. This will not be possible in the current situation where visa requirements that support protectionist trade practices are so stringent that many prefer to invest locally and hence only benefit from a smaller home markets.

There exists different movement of persons regime in the region, a good start but they have been slow in facilitating movement. The Horn of Africa needs to do more to facilitatate mobility of its people not just for trade but also tourism, culture, education amongst other reasons. Recently, IGAD launched the Tourism Master Plan that envisions a single tourist visa as is agreed between Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.

While this will apply to visitors into the region, what provisions are in place to enable the people of the region to benefit from such an initiative. Imagine what we could be able to do if we were able to travel from Asmara, through Addis Ababa, Moyale, Nairobi, Jinja with much ease and cheaply.

As it is now, it would cost close to 250 USD to just get visas to those countries. We would understand and appreciate each others cultures better, have educational exchanges more easily (similar to Europe's Erasmus mundus). When I mention I work in Djibouti, most people ask me how Addis Ababa is doing because they think it's a city in Ethiopia- we will not integrate this way.

Last year, in an effort to facilitate movement of goods, the numerous weighbridges between Mombasa and Kigali were significantly reduced, the three concerned presidents have even made road trips to ensure that this was implemented.

What has been the result, reduced time on the road by trucks which translates to saving costs and eventually reduction of prices for consumers. It can be done!

On security concerns, facilitated movement is not free-no free lunch remember, it comes with checks and balances; people will still require to use gazetted land, air and water border crossings, have valid travel documents but the visa hustle and costs will be gone.

Cooperation between border agencies ranging from immigration, customs, internal security and others will support the mobility agenda.

The capacity of these agancies need to be strengthened to not only control borders as is largely the case now but to facilitate movement.

Striking that key balance is important if we are going to unlock and live the potential that everyone talks about when they say Africa is rising.

Caroline Njuki is the Regional Migration Cordinator at IGAD

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