Who ate our borders? They’re almost gone!

Saturday July 23 2016

 

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

I had read and heard about the One Stop Border Post from East Africanists, but was frustrated because no one was putting out a photograph or graphic illustration of how it works.

So I decided to check it out, driving from Kisumu into Uganda through the Busia border point.

There were surprises aplenty. Something radical is happening with this one-stop thing. When you are entering Uganda from Kenya, you go to a single immigration hall.

At one window, a Kenyan immigration official stamps your travel document to log your exit. And you step right over to the next window, hand over your passport and a Ugandan official stamps your entry.

If you are a law-abiding citizen, you are through in about two to three minutes. You walk through a short corridor, and you are in Uganda.

On the return leg, you head to the opposite immigration complex, and the process happens in reverse. The same thing happens for Customs clearance.

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This exercise used to take travellers at least 30 minutes, and sometimes clearing your car could run into an hour!

If you don’t have a passport, you also get an interstate pass, which is issued simultaneous by Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.

On average, the one-stop posts have cut the time travellers spend at the border by at least 90 per cent. This is truly remarkable, because it was all but impossible to think of an African government acting alone or collectively with others achieving those levels of efficiency.

But politically, the remarkable thing about it that East African governments have actually got rid of a centuries old idea – the “no man’s land.”

In the process, they have taken a big first step reimagining borders, in ways only a few nations on the continent have attempted – one of the cases being at the Botswana-South Africa land border crossings.

At the Busia border crossing, the old Uganda post used to be a disgraceful little thing with a scruffy little yard.

Let’s first forward 10 years, and assume that the mad men running South Sudan will have dropped off the map or had a Biblical conversion on the road to Damascus, and the country is working.

Also, as the newest member of the East African Community, that it will have implemented the one-stop border post system.

In addition, let’s assume that Al Shabaab will have been defeated, and everything will be nearly hunky dory in Somalia, and that it will have joined the EAC. Finally, that Ethiopia will have come to the party too.

At that point, Kenya will be surrounded by countries that are all EAC members.

In that scenario, then, by the end of 2025 Kenya will not have a “no man’s land,” nor a main official land border crossing that it controls by itself.

The changes it would have to make to its institutions and in the way its economy works, would be so extensive that it would be the kind of country that currently does not exist on the continent.

And that could be happening to all the countries in East Africa by that point. A brave new world could be around the corner.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]

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