A suggestion by East African Legislative Assembly member Nancy Abisai that the East African Community considers passing an anti-xenophobia law to avoid getting caught off guard in eventuality could pass for an emotional run-of-the-mill triggered by the situation in South Africa.
But that is not entirely true. If any, xenophobia, the fear of foreigners often characterized by attacks on migrants, is not a new phenomenal to our region. Hundreds of regional citizens were, two years ago, evicted from Tanzania. Rwandans, most of whom had lived all of their lives in Tanzania and acquired citizenship, were among those affected. Others were from Burundi and Uganda.
This rather sad turn of events happened despite the sustained push for regional integration that has been achieving so many gains in the recent past.
This is why it makes sense when Abisai, the Kenyan EALA member, said the region should take xenophobia with the seriousness it deserves.
MP Abisa, a member of the EALA Committee on Communication, Trade and Investment, was speaking in Kigali where a two-day plenary session of the committee was reviewing partner states’ national investment codes and policies with the view to harmonise them into a single regional investment code.
Fredrick Owiti, the principal economist on investment and private sector development at the EAC Secretariat, had earlier noted that failure to sensitise and involve citizens in the integration process could lead to possible conflicts.
The spirit of the EAC integration, as enshrined in the Common Market Protocol, says the right to free movement of persons entails the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality. Certainly, this translates into a no to xenophobia but considering that it is not clearly spelt out in the legal framework that guides the bloc, one cannot rule out nationals of one partner state turning against other citizens in their country in the future.
This is why the legislator’s suggestion makes sense. More than putting citizens at the forefront of the integration process, EALA should consider adding into the Common Market Protocol clauses that tackle xenophobia to try and avert future calamities.