East Africans and keen observers alike have been mesmerised by the instant results of a nine months old trilateral arrangement bringing together Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda under which the three countries are pursuing a series of joint projects aimed at bettering the lives of their citizens.
The Heads of State of the three countries met in their fourth summit in Entebbe, Uganda, yesterday, with citizens already reaping the fruits of this dynamic cooperation, which should ultimately spur the wider East African Community (EAC) integration process.
Even before the ink has dried, the benefits of the joint projects are evident. Thanks to the decision by the three principals to allow their citizens to move across borders using their national identity cards and student cards as well as voter’s cards in the absence of the former, the number of people from the three countries crossing into each other’s territory is already up there, just one and a half months after this came into force.
In Rwanda, official figures indicate that as many as 83,010 nationals had traveled to Uganda or Kenya using their identity cards, while 29,907 Ugandans and 9,575 Kenyans also crossed into Rwanda between January 1 and February 20.
This happened even before the principals could officially launch the initiative, with President Paul Kagame and his Kenyan counterpart, Uhuru Kenyatta, officially kicking it off on Wednesday when they used their national IDs to travel to Uganda for this week’s summit.
The three leaders have also delivered on their promise of a single tourist visa allowing a tourist visiting any of the partner states to visit the other two as part of the same package. This has already excited tourists with hundreds applying for the single visa even before the scheme was officially launched in Entebbe yesterday.
Equally impressive is the pace with which the partner states have eliminated most of the Non-Tariff Barriers that had for long dogged the all-important Northern Corridor, as well as the launch of a single customs territory. It now takes just eight days for a cargo truck to move from Mombasa to Kigali, down from three weeks before. There is also significant progress towards the other agreed joint projects, including preliminary work on the proposed Mombasa-Kigali railway line and the oil pipeline.
Noticeably, yesterday, the principals laid out a clear framework for accelerated efforts in a joint power generation project. They also signed a pact on defence, peace and security, committing to jointly safeguard regional stability and fight cross-border crime.
These are historic milestones registered in such a short time. The benefits to the ordinary citizens and the economies of the participating countries as a whole are enormous; economically, socially and culturally.
The three countries have proved that with political will, the broader EAC bloc can do much better in its integration agenda. It is hoped that the momentum and pro-people nature of the joint projects by Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda will serve as a catalyst for deeper EAC integration.