Three Partner States of the East African Community (EAC) namely; Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, under the Northern Corridor Integration Projects initiative, have waived visa fees for foreign residents living within the 3 countries in order to allow them easier access to the region’s diverse offering.
The visa free was approved last year on 11th December 2014 and is contained in a Ministerial report that Presidents Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Paul Kagame of Rwanda signed at the 8th Northern Corridor Integration Summit held in Nairobi in Dec 2014.
Foreign residents in the three Partner States with valid work and resident permits will no longer have to pay the US$30-50 visa fee on arrival but will now be issued with an Interstate pass at the airport of departure for admission to the destination. Uganda and Rwanda implemented this reform on 15th Dec 2014 but the impact only became real when Kenya effected the directive on 15th Feb 2015.
Uganda Tourism Board’s Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Asiimwe said; “This move is bound to bring exponential benefits to foreign residents living in the three countries. Our countries have a rich tourist menu on offer. From serene beaches, to pristine wildlife and nature, exquisite reserves, warm hearted and inviting people, our region is the place to visit. Our products are inexhaustible and this waiver offers our region, the best place to live and work. We encourage this expatriate community to be a part of the endless discovery, encounter and adventure of the best tourism episode of Africa at the least affordable price.”
“We encourage the private sector to take advantage of this opportunity to offer unbeatable packages while maximizing win-win offers,” Asiimwe concluded.
While Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) Managing Director Muriithi Ndegwa said, “the visa free travel will provide an amazing opportunity for residents staying in the three Partner States to explore the immense diversity of wildlife, landscapes, cultures, and heritage, among other renowned attractions either for weekend gateways, corporate retreats or annual family holidays”.
On her part, the Rwanda Development Board’s Head of Department for Tourism and Conservation Ambassador Yamina Karitanyisaid in a statement that the waiver of the fee was the next step in consolidating and enriching the region’s tourism offering.
“We are approaching the rest of the world as a unified and rich tourist destination with varied experiences for travellers. We are also positioning East Africa’s tourism assets collectively as part of the Northern Corridor Integration Projects,” said Ambassador Karitanyi adding that the joint marketing programmes will be carried out annually and will cover international trade fairssuch as the International Tourism Board (ITB), JATA Tourism EXPO Japan, Akwaaba African Travel market and World Travel Market (WTM) in 2015. She pointed out that going forward; the Partner States will lobby for a single stand during international tourism marketing events.
Outlining the modalities of implementation, Ambassador Karitanyi said the eligible foreign residents shall be issued with interstate pass on exiting the host state and visitor’s pass endorsed in their passports on arrival by presenting valid work/resident permits. Other immigration procedures and regulations will however be maintained.
In preparing for the joint marketing programs, she noted that the three Partner States were already gearing up the teams involved by conducting destination training workshops and disseminating information on the use of National Identity Cards, Student/Voters Cards and the East Africa Tourist Visa.
Waturi Matu, Coordinator of the East Africa Tourism Platform noted that “there was need for continued lobbying on free movement of persons, services and other tourism related issues within the full East African Community (EAC). However, this will only be possible if the Tourism and Wildlife Management Sectoral Council meetings are held frequently and the agenda is reviewed to address current needs and quick wins.
Lobbying needs to intensify at Partner State level for frequent meetings since the EAC Tourism and Wildlife Management Sectoral Council is only on its 6th meeting while other Sectoral Councils are on their 15th meeting, hence the very slow progress on Tourism and Wildlife Management at the EAC.