Who could have ever imagined this happening? Free for all! Permission to work in Rwanda with no charge whatsoever! My excitement does not come from near; I have every reason to celebrate this new development.
Way back, before Rwanda joined the East African Community (EAC) in July 2007, I remember crossing the Katuna Border with mixed feelings. I was still a student coming for my long holiday in Kigali.
As I lined up to clear with the not so friendly border officials- at that time, I was not so eager to get interrogated by them. “Why, where and what are you going to do in Rwanda?” the questions became profound as the line thinned.
In a matter of seconds, I watched as a man was whisked away by secret border security. Luckily for me, I passed the interrogation simply because I was a ‘Point 5’ (0.5). A ‘Point 5’ because I am ‘Proudly Rwandan’ and ‘Truly Ugandan’.
I later learnt that the whisked-away-man apparently had legal hidden goods in his suitcase yet he claimed he was a teacher, who worse still, had no Work Permit.
Today, if that whisked-away-man knew that a waiver was lifted on work permits, he would never have tried hiding his legal goods in his suitcase.
Since Rwanda’s Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration, announced its new Visa and Work permit rules effective March 9th, 2009, many traders, teachers, and other workers are rejoicing with me a mere Point Fiver.
“Work Permits are free of charge for all EAC members only upon application. It does not matter whatever job one is doing as long as you are an EAC national,” Innocent Niyonsenga, the Public Relations Officer of Immigration and Emigration said.
This is also backed up by Article 27 of the Model Protocol on which the EAC Common Market is negotiated. It declares that the right to reside in a host partner state will be granted to any East African resident seeking employment or to carryout an economic activity in a member state.
Work permits, formerly a major hindrance to free movement of labour within the regional bloc, are now a thing of the past. Such a development cannot be taken lightly considering that the EAC bloc is trying to achieve a Common Market by 2010, hence a regional economic integration and political federation by 2012.
Besides economic integration, time will prove that the skills gap will be tremendously narrowed within the EAC. This basically lies in the fact that the EAC needs to shape up, build and at the same time maintain competitive position in the global economy.
With the current financial crisis or not, what counts for the EAC economy is the availability of effective skilled workers who are reinforced by patriotic leaders with innovative and entrepreneurial views.
For the EAC bridging and filling in the skill gap is a swerve towards economic freedom. Without this freedom, this economic bloc probably will eventually face challenges of standing due to a lack of balance between the different states economies.
That why lifting restrictions to allow the free movement of EAC nationals and labour will allow people to ‘run their own blocks’ as they hustle to survive. Not only will their standard of living and livelihoods improve, but on the wider picture the EAC, especially Rwanda will gain from the expertise of Ugandans, Kenyans, Tanzanians and Burundians.