Experts have called for caution in effecting a directive by President Uhuru Kenyatta to issue Africans wishing to visit Kenya with a visa on arrival, saying it can only be enacted in accordance with the law and after changes are made in the security system.
According to Justice John Ruhangisa of the High Court of Tanzania, if the Kenyan immigration laws conflict the statement, then it will be hard to implement the directive.
“The directive can only be effected if the Kenyan immigration laws give such provision or if they are amended to cater for that,” said Justice Ruhangisa.
Justice Ruhangisa however added that Kenya under the EAC treaty has the right to make decisions on matters that other partner states are not part of without expecting reciprocity from them.
“The EAC Treaty allows for variant geometry where one partner state if ready can fast track and implement and issue ahead of the others. Rwanda has already done that and Kenya has followed suits. The other countries could choose to do the same,” he said, adding that Kenya and Rwanda under the "coalition of the willing" are implementing what the three countries including Uganda agreed to fast track ahead of the other EAC partner states.
The director of African Centre for Security & Strategic Studies Simiyu Werunga, said the directive cannot be implemented without serious security changes especially on data systems. Data systems will have to be boosted to the capacity where they are able to store and retrieve enough data over along time.
“Currently our systems are not solid enough and they do not have the capacity to store and retrieve enough data for over a period of time,” said Dr Werunga. “Also to implement this there is a need to have honest and trustworthy people at the entry points or else illegal goods and people will gain entry into the country.”
In his inauguration speech for his second term on November 28, President Uhuru Kenyatta said Africans wishing to visit Kenya will be eligible to receive a visa on arrival. He further said that citizens from the East African Community will only need a national identification card to travel, work, do business, own property, farm and even marry and settle in Kenya.
The President said the new measures will boost trade and security, increase appreciation for African diversity and reduce negative politics on the continent.
“I will work with you, leaders of the East African Community, to bring a renewed energy and optimism to our union. Together, we can deliver the peace and prosperity for which our citizens are crying out; divided, we will struggle to realise the full potential of our people,” he said.
Seychelles requires no visa for any African country, and Namibia, Ghana, Rwanda, Mauritius, Nigeria, and Benin have all adopted this no visa policy over the past two years.
The African Union also launched a continental passport last year as part of its move to encourage open borders.
The Central African Economic and Monetary Community also reached a key milestone agreement recently, making travel within the six-member regional block, comprising Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon and Chad, visa-free and integration of central Africa a reality.
The African Union’s transformation agenda 2063 contains plans for a common visa policy with three primary components -visa-on-arrival for all African nationals, mandatory granting of a minimum 30-day visa for African citizens visiting any African country by 2018, and the ambitious goal of a single, continental passport by 2020.
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The chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki on his Twitter handle said he was delighted by President Kenyatta’s announcement.
“Congratulations on this historic decision! I urge all African states that have not yet done so, to take similar measures towards free movement for all Africans across Africa,” Mr Faki tweeted.
Makerere university political history professor, Mwambutsya Ndebesa said although visa-free travel within Africa could potentially reduce emigration, reduced visa restrictions will necessitate advances in electronic border management systems and improved interoperability of security architecture.
This will address the increased risks of illegal goods, cross-border terrorism, the issue of stateless individuals, trafficking and cross-border crime which Kenya will need to have in place before it can implement the directive.