The three major projects Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya agreed to fast-track in a trilateral arrangement are in the spirit of integration of the East African Community partner states, Jacqueline Muhongayire, the minister for EAC affairs, has said.
In June, the heads of state from the three countries convened in Entebbe, Uganda, where they agreed to fast-track a joint railway line project, oil pipeline, adoption of national identity cards as travel documents, as well as establishment of a single tourist visa, and a single customs territory.
Speaking to this paper at the weekend, Muhongayire said the projects had been considered under the EAC integration process but were delaying and needed fast-tracking.
The minister’s explanation follows criticism by critics who say that other member states, Burundi and Tanzania, had been sidelined in the joint projects.
But Muhongayire said: “For the three countries to go trilateral, it means our presidents were forward-looking. Our citizens need tangible benefits from EAC integration and faster. That’s why they decided to come together and implement the projects most of them already outlined in the Common Market protocol.”
During a June joint meeting, the three heads of state agreed to construct a railway line that would run from Mombasa to Kigali through Kampala, a project expected to facilitate the easy movement of goods from the port to the hinterland.
The rail project that is expected to be completed by 2018 and estimated to cost $3.5 billion. The three member countries will jointly mobilise funds to implement it.
“Since the trilateral framework went into force, the commitment has increased for example, effective January next year, our citizens will be free to use national identity cards and other national documents as travel credentials and this is what integration means,” she noted.
In a recent meeting in Kigali, ministers and heads of institutions responsible for immigration, tourism, internal affairs, among others, from the three countries also agreed on the issuance of EAC single visa among the three partner states to facilitate tourists to move freely.
The single visa had earlier been envisaged to be in operation by July, last year, but it was delayed due to reluctance of some partner states, with observers particularly accusing Tanzania of dragging its feet.
Rica Rwigamba, the head of tourism and conservation at Rwanda Development Board, welcomed the initiative, saying they would now be able to market the region as a single tourist destination.
“The number of tourists will increase within our region and we are now going to have the marketing materials which will help and guide our visitors,” she said.
It is expected that the envisaged single visa would save potential tourists time and the painstaking process of having to move from one embassy to another seeking different visas to travel across the East African region.
Meanwhile, the heads of state from the three countries will meet this week in Mombasa, Kenya, to deliberate on the modalities of jointly mobilising funds to finance the projects.