The protocol on free movement of persons within the 19-member Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) is in the process of ratification.
This was said by Senator Margaret Nyagahura during a meeting with a visiting Comesa task force on Friday.
The delegation of five is in Rwanda to consult on why the roadmap for implementing key legal instruments on immigration matters and free movement of persons in the bloc is fraught with difficulties.
Instruments in question are the protocol on the gradual relaxation and eventual elimination of visa requirements, adopted in 1984, and the protocol on free movement of persons, labour, services, the right of establishment and residence, adopted in 2001.
The former protocol has been signed and ratified by all Comesa members but its implementation remains problematic.
Only four countries – Rwanda, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Burundi, have signed the second protocol but only Burundi has gone an extra mile to ratify it.
“Parliament recognises that full implementation of the Comesa programme on free movement is the key to the successful attainment of a well integrated common market and there is need for the Comesa Secretariat to put effort in convincing other member states to sign and ratify the protocol to encourage reciprocal treatment of citizens in other member states,” Sen. Nyagahura told the the task force.
The taskforce was led by Xavier Milindi Kiriza, the secretary general in the DR Congo Ministry of Internal Affairs and Comesa national focal person.
Amb. Zeno Mutimura, the Chairperson of the Chamber of Deputies standing committee, also assured the visiting team that as far as the government is concerned, regional integration is a top priority and whatever remains to be done will soon be concluded.
The Comesa team included John Cherriyot, the Comesa Focal National Person in Kenya; Houssein Guedi Absieh, a Djibouti national who is an Immigration expert in the Comesa Secretariat; Bunya Nyatwa, the Comesa National Focal person in Zimbabwe; and Vianney Karangwa, the Comesa National Focal person in Rwanda.
The team met with lawmakers on both the Chamber of Deputies and Senate standing committees on Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Security.
Kiriza acknowledged that Rwanda has done many things concerning Comesa engagements especially since the bloc’s people, or even Africans at large, now come and get visas at the point of entry.
East African Community (EAC) citizens are currently allowed six months stay in Rwanda while people outside the region have 90 days.
Where is the problem?
Even though members of the taskforce do not represent their respective countries of origin, their knowledge of what is going on in their own backyards points a gloomy picture.
Absieh puzzled the lawmakers when he told them that Djiboutians are against opening up because they “don’t want to be submerged” by a possible influx of foreigners if they signed and ratified the protocols.
Djibouti is a small country, he said, and its people do not want outsiders to come and “disturb” them especially with the web of insecurity in the horn of Africa.
However, Karangwa disputed the claim, saying other small member countries like the Seychelles and Mauritius have opened up and have not been inundated as feared by the former.
Mutimura said the failure by some countries to implement the legal instruments was due to a lack of political will at the “highest level” and, a question of the concerned states having poor priorities.
According to Absieh, no deadline can be fixed for implementation of the tools “because we are dealing with sovereign states.”