EA Integration and Cross Border Migration: Key issues for the regional agenda

As the five East African governments accelerate the momentum towards regional integration, which is contemplated to be complete and functional by the year 2015 some important issues compel thoughtful considerations. Cross-border migration is a key one, as the process is not well synchronized  with regard to people's mobility. 

by Dulo Nyaoro

As the five East African governments accelerate the momentum towards regional integration, which is contemplated to be complete and functional by the year 2015 some important issues compel thoughtful considerations. This is partly because policies and decisions made will have far reaching impact- probably more than what is anticipated by government officials and politicians- but also partly the human element about this construction has not received adequate attention. Further more the process is not well synchronized especially with regard to cross border migration. On this score, suspicion still characterizes the relationship between Kenya and Tanzania regarding issues of trade and migration. For cross border migration, a few but salient realities will need to be thoroughly considered by the five governments.

A huge and porous border

With an area covering 1.8 million square km, the outer border of this region will be probably longer than that of the entire Western Europe. This boundary is by no means static however; projections are that upon attaining peace Somalia may opt to join the union. Depending on the outcome of the referendum scheduled for next year Sudan, Southern Sudan might be the next candidate. The long and porous border has practical implications besides security issues. One is that EAC will have as her neighbours, seven different countries with whom to deal with in matters of cross border migration. The concern is, does EAC have the capacity to monitor and control such a huge border? The practical reality is that even if it wanted to, the resources available are desperately needed to tackle more pressing matters such as education, health and infrastructure. The best alternative would then for EAC to change its diplomatic orientation towards active cooperation to ensure that there is considerable peace in the neighbouring countries. Sharing of information, technology and skills may make border management easier and amicable.

Trans-national communities

The other challenge which is directly linked to the first is that of trans-national communities, that is ethnic or linguistic communities straddling common borders. Given the arbitrary nature of most boundaries in Africa communities are scattered in different neighbouring countries. While the expansion of borders will definitely benefit some communities by bringing them together in one political and administrative unit such as the Masaai and Kuria of Kenya and Tanzania, Teso, Samia and Luo of Uganda and Kenya but it still leaves others out. The question, how does the EAC plan to deal with such communities who have their kith and kin within the boundary? Will special considerations be given to such people when they want to visit relatives!

Common drivers of cross-border migration

The apprehension of some member countries of their labour market being flooded by immigrant workers from the other countries may be best addressed by considering the actual drivers of migration in the region. Consider the movement of labour. Although it is true that skilled labour normally follows capital, it is also true that unskilled labour goes the opposite direction. For example, Kenya's capital investment in Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania will attract highly skilled professionals, the unskilled labour from Kenya are not likely to go to these places. This is because unskilled labour in these places will fetch very little in terms of real income. Instead the unskilled labour from Tanzania or Uganda can easily move to Kenya because the pay is relatively better. The other driver is education. Uganda for example benefits greatly from the education industry as many Kenyans join secondary schools and tertiary institutions there. Kenyans prefer going to Uganda because education is affordable and one is likely to complete their studies in time. This way, Kenya and Uganda benefits from regional migration. Trade and commerce is equally and important driver. New products and services get exchanged and new markets are created. With a population of 120 million people region provides a great opportunity for all those concerned to benefit. However forced displacement also contributes significantly to cross border migration. The region will have to deal with this phenomenon constructively. If member states consider and improve their areas of strength in this matrix they are likely to benefit from cross border migration.

Common Visa

Given that EAC will soon be a political entity there are the travel implications for those wishing to visit the region from outside. While the EAC has experimented with a common East African passport, a common visa has never been tried. In the future these two issues will be critical. Issuing a common visa will be greatly useful in reducing bureaucracy at border points, ease movements and make the regional attractive to visit and to do business. Experience shows that most people who come to the region normally visit two or more of the countries. These four agenda should inform the policy processes of EAC with regard to cross border migration.


Photo: SID