In a departure from the norm, and clearly as a sign of growing frustration with EAC partners putting the brakes on key developments which could push the East African Community forward, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda have taken steps to ensure that a common tourist visa among the three countries will be a reality by January 2014, as will unrestricted travel by using national identity cards.
The recent summit in Entebbe, hosted by President Museveni, had already stirred the attention of pundits when the three agreed to make Mombasa their preferred port of call and link the city with Nairobi, Kampala, and Kigali by standard gauge railway, which according to the latest information at hand is due to be fully operational by 2018.
Security, a matter of common concern among the three, was also high on the agenda, likely leading to a full exchange of data of entries and exits as captured by the electronic systems now in place at all border points.
For the tourism industry, it is of key interest that the common visa, at least among three member states, will be operationalized sooner rather than later. “We cannot allow ourselves to be held back by other partners who are not ready for whatever reason. The three are willing partners and ready to move on key issues. The two remaining EAC members, Burundi and Tanzania, can join when they are ready to join. The three will use trilateral agreements, outside the EAC protocols, to implement their decisions now, but those agreements can become part of protocol implementation when the others agree.
“We must have a single customs territory and when the presidents agree that taxes and duty will be collected in Mombasa by Uganda and Rwanda, too, then that must be implemented. Once the taxes and duties are paid, there is also no longer an issue with long queues at Malaba or Busia, and there is no issue any longer between importers from the Uganda and Kenya Revenue Authority. We have a common tariff band for imports for all three countries and, therefore, once the importers paid in Mombasa for Uganda or Rwanda, there is no more threat of dumping goods in transit.
“There is a lot of growing trade and tourism exchange between Kenya and Uganda and Rwanda. We want to encourage tourists from overseas to come and visit all three because of the different attractions they offer. Until now, they would have to pay about US$150 in visa fees, but in the future, this will be cut to just one visa fee, though a bit higher than it is now but valid for three countries which can then share the proceeds. [Information obtained from Kigali speaks of a common visa fee of U$100, valid for 90 days for all three countries irrespective of how often a tourist crosses the borders between the participating countries.]
“Even more important, every citizen of our countries holding a Kipande [Kiswahili word for ID document] will be able to travel by road, rail, or air using the national ID cards. This will allow more trade, more travel, and greater integration between our people. It will make citizens appreciate that the EAC has become serious and relevant in so many ways and is now finally moving. Again, when others are ready, they can join this process which by then will have proven its value,” said a source close to the action in Kigali, where a tripartite meeting was held until yesterday of ministers and technical personnel, to follow up on the head of state summit in July.
While tourism sources in Rwanda, who were understandably close to the event, already welcomed the move, sources in Uganda and Kenya, by end of business yesterday, still expressed to have no knowledge of the Kigali meeting and its outcome.