Last year, pressure mounted on member states of the East African Community (EAC) to implement the Common Market protocol.
Employers and workers’ associations went as far as to petition the East African Legislative Assembly to lean on member states, especially as far as freedom of goods and services are concerned.
Before the admittance of South Sudan into the bloc, Tanzania and Burundi were still dragging their feet in some components of regional integration.
The other remaining members; Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, embarked on implementing common policies without waiting for the stragglers to make up their minds; they were implementing the principle of “variable geometry”. The slow movers will have to catch up.
Both Burundi and Tanzania are still wary of the implication of opening up, citing health, policy and security concerns. Both are reluctant to scrap work permit fees to allow the free movement of labour for the above reasons.
Okay, Burundi has its own financial and political demons, without mentioning the deteriorating security situation. So it needs the little money it can get into its coffers … but what about Tanzania?
It has one of the most stringent work permit policies. This is probably informed by many Kenyan professionals, who, since the EAC was revived, “invaded” Tanzania’s work space, especially the hospitality and service industries.
But that is why capacity building has been a lynchpin in pushing forward integration; so that citizens of the EAC can be competitive. So, closing doors does not bring the bloc closer to integration.
The Common Market Protocol was meant to facilitate trade among member states, but Burundi’s growing isolationist policies is worrying.
It first barred passenger buses from crossing the border with Rwanda, stopped informal border trade and even closed one of the borders with its neighbour citing “low traffic”.
Now the question remains; are signatories to the EAC integration really serious? It remains to be seen.