East African Community – EAC Secretary General Dr. Richard Sezibera has named the introduction of a single tourist visa to the region, and the revival of an East African Passport across the member states, as among the main priorities for the trade bloc in 2013 alongside the removal of non-tariff barriers in the aviation and tourism sectors.
These issues have been causing major disappointments among the tourism industry, which has for long been struggling with the expensive image of East Africa when traveling to several countries, where visa fees for a family of four can run into US$1,000 US if visiting all 5 member states. Such added costs are seen as a hurdle to promoting cross-region safari packages, and while Kenya permits the re-entry after obtaining an initial visa when visiting other countries like Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, or Tanzania, none of the other countries are offering the same option to tourists.
Stakeholders have for long blamed bureaucrats for dragging their feet over technical issues like revenue sharing, which in view of the highly-advanced immigration technology in place at immigration checkpoints today is now seen as a mere excuse by some member states to slow down integration and prolong the existence of other NTBs in place. The idea for a common visa was first floated from within the Ugandan delegation in 2001 at the East African Community Committee for Tourism and Wildlife, warmly welcomed, and then buried under paperwork. Former Kenyan Tourism Minister Najib Balala minced no words early last year when he blamed dark forces within the EAC of obstructing progress in such crucial areas, and for few was there any doubt in which direction his remarks were directed. Time will tell if during the remaining 11 ½ months of 2013 this long overdue task will be completed or dragged into yet another year.