Theodore Ndikumana, a 26-year-old casual labourer in Kicukiro says he has never gone beyond Rwandan borders; however he has plans to one day go to Kampala where a close friend told him that it’s easier to make money than in Kigali.
“I am told that if I go with about Rwf200,000, I could exchange and get almost million shillings which a friend told me is enough to start a small business,” Ndikumana said.
As a matter of fact, the young man is currently on a saving campaign; so far he claims to have Rwf100, 000 in a secret vault where he keeps his money and once he hits the target, he’ll venture into a world unknown.
“I don’t have a passport which has been my worry for a long time but I heard on radio recently that Rwandans can cross into Uganda using their identity cards,” he said.
Well, that’s correct. The development came into force in February 2014 after Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda reached an understanding to have their citizens use national identity cards to cross into any of the three countries.
The initiative is one of those being implemented by the three countries aimed at fast tracking the integration process on the northern corridor.
Asked whether he knows about other initiatives such as the single customs territory or the East African common market, Ndikumana claimed ignorance saying that such information is too ‘advanced’ for him.
It’s unlikely that Ndikumana is the only one in those circumstances; many Rwandans are constantly looking for opportunities beyond Rwanda but lack the information to guide them.
Some observers say that the integration process still remains a distant project to many an ordinary citizen such as Ndikumana yet it’s for such people that efforts to integrate the East African partner states are aimed.
In a recent interview, Sunday Times asked Rwanda’s Minister of East African Affairs, Amb. Valentine,Rugwabiza, whether Rwandans feel involved in the integration process, to which she responded that although a lot had been done in the past, more still needed to be done.
“I can say that we have come from somewhere but not yet where we need to be in this regard. That’s why I consider that this is an area where we need to do much more and it is clearly one of our priorities in this ministry,” she said.
Rugwabiza added that she spends most of her time interacting with key stakeholders whom she believes are channels through which integration can be taken closer to the people.
“It’s the reason why I spend a bit of time with the media and Members of Parliament because I do believe that those are key stakeholders in really bringing integration to the people and making them understand that integration is not a process that will be led exclusively by policy makers,” said the minister.
Richard Owora, the head of EAC Corporate Communications and Public Affairs says that the East African Community Secretariat was also working hard with several stakeholders to ensure that the region’s citizens play a deeper role in the integration process.
“The potential for cross border trade and related economic impact at border communities are not entirely explored because remote communities have very little or no knowledge of the integration or its benefits,” said Owora.
Currently, as a way of strengthening communication and sensitisation of EAC achievements and popularizing integration benefits to all East Africans, the EAC Secretariat in collaboration with the German development agency GIZ is planning sensitization workshops targeting the region’s border town residents.
According to Owora, the Secretariat will this month hold several workshops at Mutukula and Sirari/Isebania borders from April16 to 17 and from 23 to 24, respectively.
The sensitisation workshop that target small traders, young entrepreneurs and women traders, will be conducted in a participatory manner with presentations on EAC policies, projects and programs.
Special attention will also be reportedly given to the free movement of goods, capital, persons and labour across EAC Partner States.
The workshops will also be complemented by trainings on customs clearing procedures, including payment of taxes and the consequences of crossing the border without a valid travel document.
EAC-GIZ will also be engaging community based media in disseminating EAC information, education and communication as a means of reaching out to more East Africans.
“With these workshops, border communities and the small traders will gain essential skills and knowledge from the best practices and lessons learned in the integration process,” he said.
Officials at both the EAC secretariat and GIZ believe that these sensitisation workshops at border communities will encourage ownership and protection of the integration process by EAC citizens.
The first round of the sensitisation workshops were held between June and July 2014 along the Makamba border, between Burundi and Tanzania, and along the Rusumo border, between Tanzania and Rwanda.
EAC officials contend that as a result of the workshops, local communities around the border posts are reaping the rewards from the extended markets on both sides of their borders.
It is safe to say that these efforts by the EAC Secretariat as well as its individual partner states to invest in sensitisation campaigns are in response to numerous reports that often conclude that there was still little involvement of citizens in the integration process.
For instance, a 2013 synthesis research report that was based on the analysis of the five country studies found negative results and called for greater people participation.
“The EAC must move towards a people-centred integration, as opposed to merely market-driven free trade area integration of the ECOWAS or the first EAC market and state integration that excludes peoples/social integration,” the report recommended.
In the report’s authors also wrote that a people-centred integration is the only antidote against the possible eventual collapse of the current EAC for the same basic underlying reasons that led to its collapse in 1977.
John Bosco Kalisa, a Senior Program’s Officer with TradeMark East Africa, Rwanda office, also underscored the importance of inclusive policies if the integration process is to be a major success.
“What is important is to ensure that East Africans have equal freedoms in the common market, the freedom to move across borders to establish businesses should be enjoyed by all citizens of the five member states,” he said.
However, those freedoms are yet to be felt by everyone. So Kalisa noted that there’s a need for member countries to remove all remaining barriers that currently limit the enjoyment of these freedoms.
“Inclusion, deeper participation will ultimately be achieved when these barriers are out of the way,” he said.