Dar es Salaam: National identity cards (IDs) held by East African citizens could one day replace passports for travels within the region, if a move spearheaded by Kenya and Rwanda could have regional application. Kenyan Minister for East African Cooperation Musa Sirma told the 5th East African Media Summit held in Kigali recently that the discussions between Rwanda and Kenya were already in advanced stage.
“Kenya already has some arrangements in the pipeline for mutual agreement with Rwanda to allow the citizens of the two countries to enter either country using just their respective national IDs,” said Sirma, who is also chairman of the East African Council of Ministers.
According to him, Kenya and Rwanda will also exchange immigration officers to serve at their respective states’ desks. Rwanda and Kenya have no common border and are separated by Uganda and Tanzania.
“That should be the starting of making five EAC member states remove the passport requirement amongst the residents of their countries just, as they managed to abolish visas for local travelers,” he said.
Tanzanian permanent secretary in the Ministry of East African Cooperation Dr Stergomena Tax-Bamwenda said the East African Common Market protocol allows free movement of citizens of member states, but with the use of a special passport.
She added that it is allowed for two member states to enter agreements on the use of their national IDs for free movements between the two agreed states.
Dr Tax Bamwenda however said the agreements don’t affect the terms stated in the East African Common Market protocol on the use of a special passport.
Kenya and Rwanda have already issued their citizens with national IDs; Tanzania is in a process of issuing them, but there is still no word from Uganda and Burundi.
EAC has issued the 'East African Passport,' which in addition to serving, as a travel document for the citizens of the member states; it also guarantees the holder six months of stay against only half the period if an EA citizen entered either country with an international passport. However, the recent abolition of visas for East African citizens has rendered that condition almost useless.
Veteran Journalist Jenerali Ulimwengu from Tanzania earlier praised the government of Rwanda for opening the doors for the citizens of the other four EAC member states who wanted to work or live in Rwanda as long as they felt like doing so.
Free movement of people and labor in East Africa is stipulated in the Common Market Protocol, which went into force on July 1, 2010 and will be fully operational by 2014.
The East African Community has a combined population of estimated 140 million people, all craving for wider latitude of movement, settlement and available labour opportunities within the region.