For Ugandans who may not be aware and who may not have benefited from this development, this is how it works.
By Cris Magoba
The year 2014 started on a good note in the annals of EAC integration. This is because it started with a new travel experience for EAC citizens. This is the use of the national Identity Card as an authentic travel document between Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. The development was a result of initiatives agreed upon under the Northern Corridor Integration Projects (NCIP).
The NCIP started as a tripartite engagement of three Presidents, Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Paul Kagame (Rwanda) and Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya) at Entebbe, Uganda on June 25, 2013, to discuss how to co-operate and expedite implementation of commitments agreed upon under the EAC arrangement. It was initially meant to speed up the flow of cargo, construction of the Standard Gauge Railway, crude oil pipeline and refined petroleum products pipeline.
It later, however, expanded to include extra clusters that handle ICT, Oil Refinery, Political Federation, Financing, Power Generation, Transmission and Interconnectivity, Commodity Exchanges, Human Resource Capacity Building and Land. In addition, there are also Clusters that handle Immigration, Trade, Tourism, Labour and Services, Single Customs Territory, Mutual Defence Cooperation, Mutual Peace and Security Cooperation and Airspace Management.
It was against this background that the three Heads of State agreed to recognise the National Identity Card as a travel document within the EAC in addition to the national passports and the EAC passport. (The EAC passport has since been upgraded to a new generation e-passport to replace national passports and its issuance has been planned to commence this year).
Thus, in earnest, for more than three years now (since January 2014), citizens of the three partner states do not need a passport to crisscross each other's borders.
The use of national IDs at the exit/entry points is clear demonstration that the benefits of how a new momentum in the integration process, championed by the three leaders is continuing to trickle down to the citizens. It also enables citizens of the three countries to spend up to six months in any of the three countries without requiring any other documentation. This is expected to foster social cohesion among East African citizens
For Ugandans who may not be aware and who may not have benefited from this development, this is how it works. At the point of exit, (Entebbe Airport, Busia, Katuna or other border crossings) you present your National Identity Card and you are issued the Interstate Pass at no cost. With the Interstate Pass, you will board the plane or any other means of travel and it will work as your passport during your itinerary. Later, upon arrival at the International Airport or any other point of destination, you present your Interstate Pass and it is stamped as a form of entry visa.
It should be remembered that in addition to the NCIP initiatives of the three Heads of State, the mobility of Persons and Labour is a key agenda of the East African Community. Article 104 of the Treaty for Establishment of the EAC provides for Free Movement of Persons, Labour, Right of Establishment and Residence. The Treaty provisions were translated into the Common Market Protocol signed in November 2009 whose implementation commenced in 2010.
And thus the use of the national ID was also envisaged and provided for in the Common Market protocol. Article 9 of the protocol provides that, "A citizen of a Partner State who wishes to travel to another Partner State shall use a valid common standard travel document. The Partner States which have agreed to use machine ‐ readable and electronic national identity cards as travel documents may do so".
There is no doubt that the national identity card will continue to harness the power of the people, the business persons and professionals to maximize sustainability of development in the EAC.
Thus, as we enter the 18th year of the reestablished EAC (1999-2017), we look back at a myriad of achievements, not least the use of the national ID for intra EAC travel which we must consolidate. The last lap on this matter is to rollout the ID use to all partner States so that it does not simply remain a tripartite arrangement.
The writer is the principal public relations officer of the Ministry of EAC Affairs