Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, was this week in Rwanda, on a three-day State visit. The good news for Rwandans from President Kibaki is that, should they wish to work in Kenya, they will no longer need permits. Identifying restrictions to the free movement of people in the region as a major stumbling block to regional integration efforts.
President Kibaki emphasised the need to remove all other impediments. This is against a background of which discourse on free trade as often centred on the free movement of goods with very little focus on the movement of people. Global capitalism in particular has always emphasized the free movement of goods and capital, while people have had to deal with some of the most horrific restrictive measures, often alienating citizens of neighbouring countries from each other and in some cases breeding xenophobia.
After all these borders are mere colonial constructions that were set up to make the administration of the different colonies more efficient, by colonial masters. Making it an imperative for Africa’s leadership to consider demolishing them (borders), as a way of correcting past injustices, before they even put in place the economic considerations and the benefits to be enjoyed thereafter.
The pledge by both President Kibaki, and his Rwandan counterpart President Paul Kagame, for the free the movement of people is important because it is the kind of political will in the highest offices that will free the people of the region. Other regions can learn from the EAC as they seem to be moving in the reverse direction of introducing even more stringent visa application rules.
Allowing people to move within regional free trade areas, such as EAC, is important in the sharing of the region’s labour force and expertise. There are other benefits for the countries involved in terms of accruing revenue, not just from the formal trade processes, but in informal trade too. Imagine the women with their handmade merchandise moving freely and selling across borders; there is a killing to be made.