Since the East African Common Market Protocol came into force on July 1, 2010, many misconceptions about its immediate legal implications have arisen. Below I discuss some of them;
Misconception No 1; East African nationals can now use national IDs to travel within the EAC territory
On 2nd July, 2010 a day after the The EAC Common Market Protocol came into force, one of TVR’s news items featured a number of Rwandan travelers who, hoping to travel to Uganda, had arrived at the Gatuna border post and presented their national IDs to the immigration officers as their only travel document.
The travelers interviewed by TVR explained that they had been informed that with the coming into force of the Protocol, one would no longer be required to present a passport or temporary travel document when moving from one Partner State to another.
Unfortunately they were mistaken and had to be turned away. While the Protocol envisages that Third Generation (Machine Readable) identity cards will eventually be accepted as travel documents when moving within EAC territory, this dream will only become a reality when more Partner states follow Rwanda ’s lead and switch to using these Third Generation identity cards.
Currently all the other Partner states are at varying stages of implementing introducing this IDs. In the meantime, all East African citizens are still required to travel with their passports or temporary travel document when traveling to Partner states not being their own.
Misconception No 2. Work permits for East African nationals have now been abolished in all East African Countries
The Protocol does not abolish work permits for East African nationals in Partner states. However, it permits East African citizens to stay in Partner states not being their own for up to 6 months without requiring a work permit or resident visa instead of 3 months as was the case previously.
After the first 6 months, an East African citizen who is employed in a Partner state not being his or her own will be required to apply for a work permit. However, Rwanda and Kenya have waived work permit fees for East African nationals work permits meaning that work permits can be obtained for free in Rwanda and Kenya. Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi continue to levy work permit fees.
Misconception No 3. East African nationals can now acquire full title to land in any Partner State
This misconception vividly captures the fears of some Ugandans and Tanzanians who believe that their cheap expansive fertile lands shall be grabbed by rich Kenyan, Rwandan or Burundian folk who do not have sufficient arable land in their own countries Such fears are unfounded.
The framers of the Protocol left it to Partner states to continue to determine their own land policy vis-à-vis citizens of other EAC Partner states. As such, Uganda and Tanzania will not be required to amend their land laws which currently limit foreign ownership of land to leasehold titles only.
They are many other misconceptions in relation to the Protocol. What is important is that we understand that the implementation of the Common Market Protocol is a gradual process, not something whose provisions took effect from 1st July, 2010.
The Protocol lays out broadly the four freedoms it aspires to achieve in the Partner states viz, free movement of labour and persons, capital, goods and services, however, in order to give effect to these aspirations, Partner states have to amend their existing laws first.
Richard Balenzi is a lawyer