At exactly 12:19p.m yesterday, President Paul Kagame arrived at the VIP wing of the Kigali International Airport where he presented his national Identity Card (indangamuntu) for immigration formalities before boarding a plane to Entebbe, Uganda, for a regional summit on key cross-border initiatives.
Upon presenting his national ID, the President reached for a departure form, signed it and submitted it to an immigration officer who then issued him with a coupon bearing an exit stamp. The formalities took about three minutes.
In Kenya, Kagame’s counterpart, Uhuru Kenyatta, went through similar formalities at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, before flying to Uganda for the same summit, which brings together the two presidents, and their host, Yoweri Museveni.
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Later, upon arrival at the Entebbe International Airport separately, the two Presidents presented their IDs and the coupons and subsequently received an entry visa into Uganda.
In doing so, Kagame and Kenyatta officially launched the use of national IDs by citizens of Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda to travel anywhere among the three countries – all members of the five-nation East African Community (EAC).
Use of national IDs at the exit/entry points by the citizens of the three partner states started on the New Year’s Day as the benefits of a new momentum in the integration process championed by the leaders of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda began to trickle down to the citizens.
In Kampala, Presidents Kagame, Kenyatta and Museveni are meeting for the fourth time in barely nine months under the trilateral initiative designed to fast track key joint infrastructure and integration projects that seeks a greater impact of the EAC integration process.
Observers say the arrangement, which has since been joined by South Sudan, is one of the most exciting and dynamic ventures undertaken by EAC leaders in recent years.
In June, last year, the Heads of State from the three EAC partner states met for their inaugural summit in Entebbe, Uganda during which they agreed to initiate and expedite major joint projects to fast track regional integration.
The other EAC partner states Burundi and Tanzania are yet to join this tripartite arrangement which provides for the use of national IDs to cross borders of regional countries, a single tourist visa, and construction of an oil refinery in Uganda and an oil pipeline from the region’s main sea port of Mombasa in Kenya to Kigali, as well as a railway line linking the three countries, among other projects.
During the inaugural summit in Entebbe, the leaders of Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda shared responsibilities among the three countries with the hosts committing to take the lead in railway development, oil refinery and EAC political federation, while Rwanda undertook to spearhead joint customs, single tourist visa and EAC e-identity card.
Kenya was charged with championing the implementation of the oil pipeline, electricity generation, human resource capacity building ion railway.
Both Burundi and Tanzania are participating in this week’s summit, as well as South Sudan, which has also applied to join the EAC bloc and participated in the last tripartite summit in Kigali in October last year.
Use of IDs and student IDs by the citizens of Kenya, Uganda and Kenya across the borders of the three countries came into force on January 1. Ugandans were allowed to temporarily use voter’s cards until the country has issued electronic IDs to its citizens.
According to figures from the Directorate of Immigration and Emigration, until yesterday, 83,010 Rwandans had traveled to either Uganda or Kenya using their identity cards, while 29,907 Ugandans and 9,575 Kenyans crossed into Rwanda between January 1 and yesterday.
The summit, preceded by a meeting of senior officials and technocrats, is expected to discuss recent developments, review implementation of projects discussed previously and propose the best way forward.
The Heads of State are also expected to launch the East African tourist visa.
In Rwanda, figures indicate that 315 tourists have applied for the single East African tourist visa since the turn of the year, with 210 of them already approved while others were under process by yesterday.
Under the deal, tourists coming to East Africa now need a single visa covering Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda at just $100, which is then shared among the three neighbours.
In August, the three Heads of State met in Mombasa, Kenya where they attended the commissioning of Berth 19, which seeks to increase capacity of the Kenyan port, a major gateway to the entire region.
One of the major achievements of the tripartite arrangement so far, is the launch of the single customs territory which has significantly reduced time spent moving goods along the Northern Corridor, from Mombasa to Kampala from 18 days to five days, and from Mombasa to Kigali from 21 days to eight days.
Meanwhile, the Heads of State are also expected to sign a defence, peace and security pact that was reached during a meeting of technocrats in Kigali earlier this year. The pact seeks to ensure closer ties among the partner states in the fight against cross border crime and consolidating peace and stability within their borders.