We have been enduring so much noise in the region about the rather ‘interesting’ laws and soon to be laws in Uganda. The Anti-Pornography Act is now real and many are just waiting to see how it will be enforced in a place where many other laws only occupy pages in the big law books.
There is however more noise related to the Anti-Gay Bill largely because when it comes to this one, Uganda seems to be in the cross hairs of the Western world and that is why we are now seeing an exchange between President Barack Obama and President Museveni. So many newspaper pages and blogs have been dedicated to this issue that I will not give it any more.
Away from mere noise, two things happened that were quite significant no word was necessary for one to notice. With our lives now permanently hooked to social media platforms, the appearance of a picture of President Paul Kagame checking in at an immigration counter at Entebbe airport using his national identity card instantly changed the trending topic to just that.
Before many East Africans could digest what had hit them, another picture this time showing Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta also appeared featuring the same Ugandan immigration official who had received Kagame. Uhuru had also presented his national identity card instead of his passport.
With just two photos the rest of East Africa and the world in general got the message that the EAC integration agenda was not a phantom. It is real. Many had to even be reminded that what the two leaders had done was actually already in practice from the beginning of the year. I guess it is true what they about people only believing what they see.
The whole Kagame and Uhuru symbolic moment with the Entebbe airport immigration office also highlighted the fact that Kagame and Uhuru have the best PR handlers. They know that a picture posted online showing them doing something like that carries more weight than the EAC summit pronouncements.
As the pictures circulated online, I soon found myself locked in a corner trying to explain Uganda’s case to inquisitive East Africans mainly from Burundi. They wanted to know what Ugandans were using to cross since we do not have national IDs. For starters, I had to point out that the agreement that the three countries had reached allowed Ugandans to use voters’ cards and student IDs.
It was during this back and forth tweeting that I realised that the process of identification in Uganda is still quite a maze. A few Ugandans have been issued with national IDs including the president himself. Some others were given IDs but others found errors (about 40 per cent of them) and had to return them to the issuing officers.
With the Internal Affairs now in the hands of Gen. Aronda Nyakarima we hope this mess will be sorted so we can also get IDs and follow in the footsteps of Rwanda and Kenya where IDs are now used in the place of passports. If this works quite well then Burundi and Tanzania will join eventually.
The three presidents of Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda plus the representatives from Tanzania and Burundi discussed a lot of things that need to be worked on so as to foster EAC integration. They launched the single tourist visa, agreed that students from the region should pay local charges when studying in the university and promised to launch the central transport corridor (Dar port line) soon.
While all this was going on, NTV Uganda aired a news story that showed how the police officers of Kenya and Uganda are simply spoiling the whole process. In an investigative story where NTV Uganda’s Samuel Ssetumba hitched a ride in a truck from Mombasa to Uganda with a hidden camera, police officers were filmed asking for bribes at almost every single stop.
We have had numerous EAC summits where the issue of Non Tariff Barriers (NTBs) has been singled out as the major barrier to trade in the region. Not only is the movement of goods slowed down by these check points, the cost of the same goods has to go up since drivers are compelled to pay bribes at each and every stop.
With the evidence clear for all to see, it is time Museveni and Uhuru cracked the whip on the greedy men in uniform. Otherwise we shall be taking one step forward and two steps back.