Failure by East African Community countries to harmonise national laws with regional integration legislation continues to hinder citizens' full enjoyment of benefits of integration. This is according to a survey conducted by CLADHO, a local human rights body.
The report, launched in Kigali last week, shows that citizens, especially workers, cannot move freely due to existing laws that need to be amended. Apart from Rwanda, EAC member countries still have laws that hinder free movement of people within the Community in contradiction of the bloc's Common Market Protocol.
The report cites Tanzania immigration laws that bar foreigners from being employed in certain occupations reserved for nationals. In Uganda, foreign labourforce, including of other East African Community citizens, are allowed to enter the country only after being granted work permits with special passes given to only people intending to work in Uganda for only 30 days, the report says.
The findings further disclosed that the Burundian immigration law does not provide for special pass and there is no provision that allows a person to process for a work permit within the country.
Movement of labour:
Emmanuel Safari, the executive secretary of CLADHO, said the problem of free movement of labour was still a challenge and called on civil society organisations in the region to play a significant advocacy role.
"We are preparing a position paper that we intend to present to stakeholders to highlight the current hindrances. What we need is for civil society to advocate for free movement of people in the region," Safari said.
He said although Rwanda has opened up the market for free movement of labour, a lot is needed to get the other partner states to harmonise their laws for the benefit of integration. Safari added that there is need for more awareness on regional integration and its benefits to citizens. Rwanda's 2011 immigration law recognises the Common Market Protocol.
The law was aligned with the EAC Protocol on free movement of people, labour and services as a requirement by the Community. According to the law, EAC citizens can visit Rwanda for a period of six months without a visa. Rwanda also waived work permit fees for EAC citizens. But other partner's states are still reluctant to do so, observers say.
Partner states looking into issue:
Patricia Hajabakiga, a member of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), acknowledged the challenges but said partner states were in the process of identifying specific laws which need to be harmonised. She said, as EALA, their role was to task the Council of Ministers to ensure that partner states enact or revise laws in accordance with regional integration principles.
"I know partner states are doing something but the question is how long it takes to implement it," Hajabakiga said. Some of Rwanda's laws that have been aligned with integration agenda include labour code, immigration law, and company law. According to the findings, the 2011 Kenyan citizenship and immigration law provides for the maximum period of 90 days extendable to six months.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of East African Community Affairs, Innocent Safari, said he was aware of the ongoing efforts by the partner states to amend their laws to suit the integration process.
Henry Mapesa, a Kenyan lecturer at the Mt Kenya University campus in Kigali, said he moved from Uganda because of the work permit fees and appealed to regional countries to allow free movement of people.
"It's a challenge that should be addressed. Why do I have to be treated as a foreigner in East Africa. I cannot now go to work in Tanzania, Burundi or Uganda because I will be forced to pay fees," he said. Mapesa said if all EAC borders were open to bloc citizens, it would reduce the unemployment challenge.