Five nations in East Africa implemented new economic rules to boost cross-border employment and trade.
The new steps push forward a larger plan to integrate the economies of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, which together form the East African Community.
When most African countries gained independence from European colonial powers in the 1950s and 1960s, Africa’s founding fathers wanted the entire continent to become one economy as a way of achieving self-reliance and better negotiating power in international markets.
The East African Community’s one set of regulations, called the Common Market Protocol, officially came into effect yesterday but each country still has to change a wide range of national laws including labour, taxation and immigration to conform to the protocol.
Rwanda, however, did not wait to implement some provisions of the protocol and more than a year ago eliminated work permit requirements for all citizens of the East African Community.
“The broad economic space which the services sector will unleash will trigger the expansion of economic activities and jobs in the region,” Juma Mwapachu, secretary general of the East African Community, said in a newspaper advertisement heralding the changes.
“East Africans have every right to be proud of the stage of integration the EAC has reached.”
Since 2005 the East African Community charged a uniform set of duties for any imports from outside the region. Over a five-year period it progressively cut to nothing all duties of goods and products traded within the region under a customs union agreement. The community also has a court and a parliament.
While Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania share a common British colonial legacy, Rwanda and Burundi were colonised by Belgium.
Creating a federation is the ultimate goal of the nine-year-old East African Community. It brings together more than 125 million people.