Are we really ready?
Lately, there has been a buzz about returning back to the blazing glory that was the East African Community. Preparations and processes have gotten us as far as a much needed Common Market. We are yet to cross over to the Monetary and Political unions, which would be the ultimate purposes of the Community.
However, preparations, major of which include proper documentation and regulations of all citizens, citizens who will eventually make trips in the community’s member countries, have not been done to the best of standards by each of those countries.
Let us get moving!
Without a doubt, people want or have wanted and will always want to travel. In East Africa, their travels are for various reasons which include schooling, working, living, exploration of places unknown and more. It is all done by their own choice or their leader’s encouragement. It is, thus, elected. It is, thankfully, not forced by extremities like war or incessant force majeures.
The existing challenges with their travels in the region is, even with the excellent efforts at reducing them, are characterised by a continuous flow of prohibited immigrants, a dearth of well aligned and efficiently enforced legislation, and he unfortunate fact that most of us are, in fact, not documented. As in the case of Uganda, there are more than enough people without either passports or national identification cards.
Porous borders can be tricky
By law, citizenship in all East African countries is obtained through several ways; birth, presumption (on discovery of unclaimed children who are below the age of five years), registration, and marriage.
Those who do not meet or have any of the options above available to them, and happen to find themselves in a country not their own are regarded either as aliens or prohibited immigrants.
Sections 68-79 of the Uganda Citizenship And Immigration Act, Chapter 66 of the Laws of Uganda have provided for aliens. Specifically, Section 68 is to the effect that ninety days after arrival in Uganda, all aliens are to register and furnish details relating to themselves with the relevant authorities.
Section 11 of The Immigration Act, Chapter 63 of the Laws of Uganda, Chapter 63 which provides for prohibited for prohibited immigrants is to the effect that no person shall enter or remain in Uganda unless they are in possession of a valid entry permit. In Section 17 of the same law, the Minister may order for the deportation of such people, the prohibited immigrants.
We all know, and for a fact, that there are so many people – aliens – who are in East African countries that they are not citizens of, and that they should have been deported much, much earlier. Well, if the law was followed to the letter.
What we have learnt from, for example, those who have ended up elsewhere, like Saudi Arabia, is that when they leave for, for example, teaching jobs, they instead end up being exploited sexually, physically, and economically, and, worst of all, are denied opportunities to return home. In essence, their freedom back home is sacrificed for an unexpected life of servitude in a world they are yet to adapt to.
It is very important to note that beyond colonial or parliamentary legislation, there exist no decent enough policies that pertain to (im)migration. Work on those has been left to international bodies like the International Organisation of Migration. The IOM’s offices are the first points contact for the troubled exiles. In countries where they do not exist, like Saudi Arabia, cases of exploitation are rampant, but unreported.
In East Africa, those who have found ways to defeat the proper systems of immigration have managed to attract for themselves and others unfathomable burdens. Due to a poverty that has grown upon them, they have ended up committing criminal offences, being unemployed, and living in slum areas.
The drafters of Kenya’s Immigration Act, Chapter 172, Laws of Kenya must have anticipated such characters when they provided, in Section 3, for people who are incapable of supporting themselves, and, in Section 4, for their removal from the country.
A coalition of the willing
However, what we all need to ask ourselves is how many times the Kenyan government has permitted and not removed prohibited immigrants, or how many times the Ugandan Minister has ordered for their deportation as per the laws of their respective countries?
What is happening, however, is that what we hope will be solutions are being provided in the form of phasing out of passports by Kenya, with the intent of issuing East Africa travel permits. With the East African travel permits, Rwandans, Ugandans, and Kenyans are to move freely without passports.
It can get ugly.
We, certainly, do not know where exactly Tanzania is taking notes from, but we must appreciate that their indifference towards this coalition of the willing is meant to protect it from the danger that maybe aliens and/or prohibited immigrants. Tanzania has pulled out of the joint visa plan for East Africa. Theirs could be a well calculated, thought out plan to keep their borders insulated, undocumented immigrants away and their citizens with more opportunities available to them. It could be a good decision, one her neighbours can or will learn from before they reconsider permitting unlimited freedoms to, and ease of travel, and, importantly, before an expected good turns into an unexpected ugliness.