By Edwin Mutai,The Citizen Correspondent
- NEED TO ENSURE SECURITY: East African Community member states are putting together a joint force that can be deployed to intervene in any situation in the community together, considering that insecurity in Kenya, for instance, has a contagion effect on the rest of the community. The Summit also called for greater partnership between government and private sector players in addressing challenges in health, education and talent development and mineral management.
Speaking at the opening of the sixth East African Business Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, the two presidents said political will is required to fully integrate the region.
In a question-and-answer session with top business exectives from the region that was moderated by Kenya Commercial Bank Chief Executive Officer Joshua Oigara, Mr Kenyatta said: “Let us be frank with each other, we have not been able to move fast because of national fears, a sense of insecurity that if one opens up their people will be denied jobs and other opportunities.
“We must deal with these fears. We need to start talking about our people being East African people. Kenya and Rwanda have made progress on this. We have been clear on opening up our labour market to take full advantage of the labour that is available in the region.”
Besides allowing EAC citizens to work in the country and set up businesses, Mr Kagame said, Rwanda’s bold steps in opening up are demonstrating the opportunities of a free labour market. He added: “Increasing trade is not only the result of exporting raw materials but also value addition. To the rest of the rest of the world, we sell raw and unprocessed materials. This is primitive in the same way people are looking at not allowing free movement of the labour market.” He spoke of unwarranted fears but added that Rwanda had confronted this challenge. “When we opened our borders and removed restrictions on work permits and visas, everyone benefited...we have benefited,” he added. “Some Rwandans had worries but it is about leaders making decisions and involving the people.”
Trade between Kenya and Rwanda has grown from $44.8 million in 2001 to $160 million by 2011--two years after the country was admitted to the EAC together with Burundi. Capital and labour flows between the two countries have continued to grow after both governments removed restrictions on work permits. “If Rwanda doesn’t have to worry about Kenya, why should other and bigger countries worry about Kenya?” President Kagame asked.
President Kenyatta, the current chair of the rotational EAC Heads of States Summit, applauded the “brave” move by his predecessor, President Mwai Kibaki, and Mr Kagame, to allow free movement of labour between the two countries. He added: “I don’t think Kenya and Rwanda are worse off with that position. I believe we are better off. Young people now move freely. I am told a lot of Kenyans now came through Kigali airport using just IDs. The United States was built [by] tapping the talent of the world. We need to end the inward-looking mentality that we inherited from our colonial masters. Let us not be fearful of one another.”
Kenya has the lowest number of visitors to Rwanda from among the EAC member states but the figure doubled between 2009 and 2012--from 33,168 visitors to 63,222, according to statistics from the Rwanda immigration authorities.
Need for speed
The two presidents told business leaders that they remain committed to investing in energy and transport infrastructure to reduce the cost of doing business in East Africa.
Mr Kagame, Mr Kenyatta and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda have been at the heart of rapid investment in key projects along the northern corridor and in the rest of the region, including the new standard gauge railway, refurbishment of Mombasa Port, and the proposed oil pipelines and refineries from Uganda to the Indian Ocean coast.