The Kenyan government on Wednesday pledged its commitment to expediting the regional integration in East Africa by promoting the free movement of labor, goods and services.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said his government has also undertook to deepen Kenya’s economic ties with neighboring countries—South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, and to take steps towards eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers while encouraging greater collaboration of regional partners.
The president said the regional integration will be spearheaded through joint infrastructure programs and investments to harness the collective potential of the region.
“I have enumerated these commitments to assure Your Excellencies of my government’s wholesome involvement in the projects encompassed in our summit’s action points,” Kenyatta said in the coastal city of Mombasa where he commissioned a new berth at the port.
The facility reflects the expanded capacity at the port of Mombasa and will enable berthing of large container ships. It is the single largest berth capacity expansion undertaken in 35 years.
“We have no option. This is the call of our time. We are the custodians of the gateway to East Africa. Our regional brothers and sisters depend on us to ensure that they never fall in want or suffer unnecessary inconvenience owing to inefficiency or corruption at this port,” he said.
The Mombasa-based port facility is the best equipped on the East African coast, being the second largest port in terms of tonnage and containers handled after Durban of South Africa. It serves the hinterland markets of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
Kenyatta has said Mombasa port must position itself to serve the interests of the entire East Africa region, and that the government plans to transform the port into the largest, busiest and most business-friendly sea-port on the East African coast.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda said the port was critical in assisting producers of goods and services in the region to access local and international markets.
Museveni, who is also the current chairman of the East African Community, challenged regional states to unite in a bid to create a bigger market for regional products and services as well as consolidate their bargaining power with major global economies and trading blocs.
He lauded his Kenyan counterpart’s personal efforts that helped remove non-tariff barriers such as roadblocks and corruption resulting in faster movements of goods, people and services between Kenya and Uganda.
During the commissioning, Kenyatta expressed his government’s readiness to improve road and rail links with neighboring countries, starting with the building of a standard gauge railway from Mombasa to Malaba in order to increase rail freight from the current 4 percent to at least 50 percent in the next few years.
He said Kenya was also committed to the Lamu Port-South Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) project to pave way for the transformation of transport and logistics and accelerate the social and economic development of the region.
“Aside from infrastructure development, my government is hastening the removal of barriers to more effective trade through the rationalization of procedures and systems with a view to eliminating unnecessary business costs,” Kenyatta said.
East African leaders agree on fast-track visa
MOMBASA, Kenya (Xinhua) — Leaders from the five East African Community (EAC) countries on Wednesday agreed on a single tourist visa for the region to facilitate tourism industry following a one-day summit in the Kenyan coast city of Mombasa.
The agreement was reached by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, his counterparts Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and representatives from South Sudan and Burundi. Their relevant ministers should finalize the modality of the use of national Identity Cards (ID) as travel documents before Oct. 15.
Speaking at the second infrastructure summit, Kenyatta said efforts are being made by customs and revenue officials in all the five countries to ensure that free movement of people within the EAC is achieved by January 2014.
“We have had tremendous progress with regard to the single tourist visa, and with regard to movement of people through use of ID cards, voters’ cards, students’ IDs to allow free movement of our people within our countries,” he said.
The five countries have a wide range of tourists’ products that compliment each other and therefore would enable the region capture a huge market.
Industry watchers say the common visa will ease travel arrangements for those intending to tour East African attractions.
At the moment, foreign tourists visiting EAC countries are required to stamp their passports in each EAC country visited.
Tourism is a vital sector for the entire East African trading bloc and has contributed immensely to the development of the region.
Besides foreign exchange, the industry also creates thousands of employment opportunities for East Africans.
The ministers responsible for tourism also agreed that partner countries should fully address the negative image portrayed and subsequent negative travel advisories issued.
The summit was a follow up to the first one held in Uganda two months ago which resolved to strengthen the East African infrastructure network in order to enhance cross-border trade.
“I am gratified that Your Excellencies share a common vision to catalyze the momentum of regional growth through deliberate actions to address challenges,” Kenyatta said.
The region also seeks to introduce a single currency under a monetary union. The monetary union in the EAC with a combined population estimated at 135 million and with a collective GDP of 79.25 billion US dollars will have a great positive economic impact for the entire region.
The tourism sector has started harmonizing hospitality services policies and laws in the region in anticipation for a full cooperation and to sustainably utilize the resources as a region.
Kenyatta said that although there is still a lot of work to be done, tremendous progress has been made towards achieving the goal of a single tourist visa for the region.
The EAC has been working on the common passport and visa since 2005, but the initiatives have been delayed due to security concerns, poor infrastructure, and disagreements over visa fee schedules and modality of revenue sharing.
Kenyatta said the region will be more successful if the countries move together.
He said the EAC has potential to attract potential investors and open up a region with a market of over 200 million people.
The next summit will be held in Kigali, Rwanda during the third week of October to review the progress in implementing the outcome of the summit.
Kenyatta called on the regional leaders to remain focused on strengthening their coordination on common projects and programs that spur economic growth in the region.
He also presented a report on the best means of exploiting electricity resources within each partner state, including such alternatives as nuclear, geo-thermal and other forms of renewable energy.
During the Entebbe Summit, Kenya was tasked with spearheading the electricity generation and distribution as well as the development of two regional pipelines to pump refined oil between Eldoret-Kampala and Kigali and crude oil between Uganda-Kenya and South Sudan.
Kenyatta urged the summit to consider the model that offers the best returns for the region, saves implementation time without compromising competitiveness or required standards.
Leaders in the region should address infrastructure links and other communication bottlenecks that impede enhanced movement of people, goods and services across the borders, he said, stressing the need for more efficient transport and communications infrastructure.
East African Community integration benefits boost Kenya tourism
NAIROBI (Xinhua) — The ongoing East African Community (EAC) integration efforts will boost tourists arrivals into Kenya, a government official said on Wednesday.
Kenya Tourism Board Managing Director Murithi Ndegwa said told journalists in Nairobi that relaxed immigration rules will result in more Ugandans, Rwandan visiting Kenya.
“We are expecting the number of incoming tourists from the EAC to increase as a result of regional integration efforts,” Ndegwa said during the preparations for the 23rd edition of the International Maralal Camel Derby.
The event, which has attracted participants from 16 different countries, will take place from Aug. 30 –Sept. 1 in northern Kenya.
Beginning January 2014, Kenya, Uganda and Rwandese nationals will be permitted to travel into each other countries by using their identity cards. The EAC is also in the final stages of implementing a single visa for the five member states.
KTB said that growth rates of tourists from the EAC are growing faster than that of traditional sources markets in the west.
“We have therefore set a target of at least two percent annual growth for tourists from both domestic and the EAC member states,” he said. The managing director said that the number of domestic tourists in Kenya is also increasing.
“Last year, they accounted for 43 percent of all bed nights in Kenya,” he said. According to Ndgewa, the expanding economy has resulted in a middle class that has high disposal income.
“Kenyans are now more aware of tourism, which was once the preserve of foreign tourists. The local tourists play an important role in stabilizing the tourism sector that is heavily dependent on international arrivals,” he said.
KTB noted that military interventions along the Indian Ocean coastline have impacted positively on Kenya’s cruise industry.
“Piracy has reduced dramatically and this has led to an increase in the number of tourists calling on Kenya’s port of Mombasa,” he said.
Samburu County Deputy Governor Joseph Lemarkat said that the camel derby will be an opportunity to open up Kenya’s northern region for tourism and other economic investments.
“It will also forge peace and harmony amongst the conflict prone pastoral communities living in the area,” he said.
Lemarkat noted that another aim of the race is to encourage locals to appreciate and participate in the tourism and conservation sectors.
According to the deputy governor, Kenya’s northern region has a rich cultural heritage.
“We are therefore encouraging the business community to invest in the tourism and real estate sectors of the county,” he said..
By Chris Mgidu and Joy Nabukewa MOMBASA, Kenya (Xinhua)