In six year’s time, EAC is supposed to be one country. The protocol, hoping it is not amended, speaks of a political federation by 2015.
In simple terms, it means that EAC will now be operating with a single currency, a single passport and this territorial mass will be governed by one Head of State. Can you imagine that?
If the dream comes to pass, the nation of East Africa will be the first in modern history to emerge out of a full integration process.
Before this last part of the integration process is realised, the EAC secretariat is busy working on a protocol that sets formalities for the establishment of a Common Market, the third most important step in the integration process that comes before a political union.
If all goes as planned, this protocol is supposed to be endorsed during the EAC Heads of State summit that is scheduled for November this year. At this summit, EAC will also be marking 10 years after its resurrection.
The Common Market protocol has eight annexes that must be appended to by member states before it becomes operational. And all these annexes rotate around free movement of people, labour and capital across the region.
My biggest worry about this whole process of integration is that the process rides on the wheels of political consensus.
When one member state is not interested in a particular article or clause of a particular protocol, then everything comes to a standstill.
Already there are indications that all annexes to the protocol establishing a Common Market are receiving a cold reception from one of the member states, a move that could lead to postponing the endorsement of a Common Market.
Ultimately, this leaves those interested in fast tracking this marriage in fixed position because they can’t push some protocols ahead, say on bilateral arrangements, for fear of killing the spirit of the marriage.
But such is the form that international negotiations take especially where interests overshadow good intentions.
Two things I wanted to point out in my arguments today that I think do not favour or are unfair to Rwanda when it comes to the issue of free movement of labour.
Whereas Rwanda goes by the principle of accepting inflow of all kinds of workers, that is, skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workforce, the existing labour laws in other member states limit these movements to only skilled labour force.
In other words a plumber or mechanic from Kenya or Uganda or Tanzania is readily accepted to work in Rwanda but a Rwandan with these similar skills is barred from taking on a job in any of these countries. The laws in these countries only provide a window for the experienced professionals like the doctors, engineers, lawyers etc.
Where is the spirit fairness here, given the fact that much of our labour force today falls within the unskilled or semi-skilled bracket? Shouldn’t our brothers, in the good spirit of integration, open their doors so that the majority of our people benefit?
Much as our youngsters graduating from Tumba, Eto Kicukiro or Kavumu are small in numbers today, what will happen in the long-run when their numbers increase only to find they are suffocated locally?
Secondly and closely related to the above, there are certain rules and regulations governing different professions especially within key member states of the EAC that are internally generated but which present another set of hidden impediments to this free movement of labour.
For example, within the Bar Association of Uganda or Kenya, there are internal regulations that prevent an outside lawyer from practising. In other words, A Kenyan lawyer cannot represent a client in a Ugandan court and vice versa simply because of existing rules that cannot be bent.
Similarly a Kigali Auditor or Doctor is blocked by certain rules within these professions, say in Nairobi, that tightly protect their grouping and automatically disqualify a ‘foreign’ professional.
Sadly because our professions are in the infant stages and are only trying to take shape, many if not all professional disciplines in Rwanda do not have such hidden regulations that are recognised by law.
An accountant from Tanzania will easily come and start business because the association of accountants in Kigali does not have provisions that prevent him or her. Therefore penetrating through our structures is simpler than it is with our colleagues in the rest of EAC, that’s another hurdle we must overcome.
My duty is to point out the bad apples the rest is to our negotiators.