Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya have agreed to the use of national identity cards as travel documents within the three East African Community partner states with effect from January 2014.
The decision was reached yesterday in Kigali at the closure of a two-day Trilateral Meeting on the use of identity cards as travel documents among other issues.
In attendance were ministers and heads of institutions responsible for Immigration, Tourism, Internal Affairs, Visa, Identity Cards and other relevant institutions from the three countries.
The meeting also agreed to the implementation of a single tourist visa among the three countries with effect from next January, to facilitate tourists to move freely among the three partner states.
The Kigali meeting was a follow up on the Trilateral Summit of Heads of State of the three countries held in Entebbe, Uganda, on June 25, where, among other things, they agreed to speed up the implementation of the use of Identity Cards as travel documents, introduction of a Single Tourist Visa and establishment of the Single Customs Territory.
Yesterday’s decision was a result of a long closed meeting by a technical committee that deliberated on various issues.
Speaking to journalists, the Minister for Local Government, James Musoni, who chaired the ministerial session noted that the move was geared at facilitating free movement of people as stipulated in the Common Market Protocol.
“It’s our task to expedite the realisation of using national identity cards as travel documents among our countries with the aim of facilitating free movement of people. The Heads of State have committed themselves and we have now agreed that the use of national identity cards will commence with effect from January next year,” he said.
He noted that the development will also enhance social cohesion among the citizens.
It was agreed that in the case of Uganda where national identity cards have not yet been issued to all its citizens, voter’s cards and student cards will in the meantime be used as travel documents.
Uganda’s state minister for East African Affairs, who doubles as the chairperson of the Council of Ministers, Shem Bageine told the meeting that his country had embarked on issuing national identity cards.
“It’s not an issue of whether we have national identity cards. What we need is to facilitate the free movement of people and we are now happy that Ugandans will be able to move using voter’s cards within the three countries,” he said.
“It’s a demonstration that everything is possible; there is nothing impossible if we come together and we are committed to the integration process for the benefit of our people.”
Under article nine of the Common Market Protocol, partner states which agree to use the machine-readable and electronic national identity cards as travel documents are allowed to do so. This is the reason why Tanzania and Burundi have been left out of the tripartite agreement.
The move was welcomed by citizens.
Henry Mapesa, a Ugandan, said it was a big step forward. “I must commend our leaders for it. This signifies that we are now gradually becoming East African citizens.”
Martin Kibunja, a Kenyan, said, “Movement will be simplified, I’m now happy that we have at least started enjoying the fruits of East African Community integration. However, it would be better if it covered all the five partner states because some people would need to go to Tanzania or Burundi and it becomes a challenge if you don’t have a passport.”
Single tourist visa
The meeting also adopted the issuance of EAC single tourist visa for tourists visiting the three countries.
The $100 visa with 90 days validity will be paid at the point of entry or in foreign missions of the respective countries.
An earlier proposal by Rwanda to waive visa fees was rejected by the other countries on grounds that it is a major source of revenue.
Rwanda was in the meantime tasked to propose a design of the single tourist visa sticker and convene a meeting within a month to validate the proposed design.
The single visa had earlier been envisaged to be in operation by July, last year.
It is expected that the projected 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.
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.
According to recent statistics, the international arrival of tourists stood at around 980 million in 2011 and they are expected to hit a billion mark later this year.
Of this, Africa registered 50 million arrivals compared to Europe’s 503 million, Asia’s 216, and Americas’ 156 million. The arrivals translated into revenues with Europe taking a 45 per cent share, Asia, 28 per cent, Americas 19 per cent, and Africa 3 per cent (which is an estimated US$33 billion).