Dr. Richard Sezibera, EAC Secretary General has said the introduction of a single tourist Visa to the region, and the revival of an East African Passport across the member states, is one of the main priorities for the trade bloc in 2013 including 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 travelling to several countries, where Visa fees for a family of four can run into 1.000 US Dollars if visiting all 5 member states.
This added cost is seen as an obstacle 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 in the region is offering the same option to tourists.
Stakeholders have for long blamed bureaucrats of dragging their feet over technical issues like revenue sharing, which in view of the highly advanced immigration technology in place at immigration check points today is now seen as a mere excuse by some member states to slow down integration and prolong the existence of other NTB’s in place.
The idea for a common Visa was first suggested by the Ugandan delegation in 2001 at the East African Community Committee for Tourism and Wildlife that was welcomed and shelved in bureaucracy.
Former Kenyan tourism minister Najib Balala early last year blamed dark forces from 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.
[The East African Community (EAC) is an intergovernmental organisation comprising five countries in East Africa: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. The geographical region encompassed by the EAC covers an area of 1.8 million square kilometres, with a combined population of about 132 million (July 2009 est.). ]