The much touted East African Single Tourist Visa is likely to flop as partner states dithered on harmonising policies and laws, analysts are warning.
The original plan was to have the regional common Tourist Visa in place in November 2006, but five years later, the document is still non-existent.
A task force appointed to study EAC’s preparedness for a single tourist visa discovered that the member countries are yet to set up basic infrastructure to facilitate EAC-bound tourists utilise the regional tourist visa system.
Findings of the study seen by The EastAfrican highlighted concerns such as harmonisation of immigration management systems as well as ICT systems used by the partner states to network with border points and embassies.
All partner states immigration departments need to have sophisticated ICT equipments that will not only allow them to exchange security data, but also detect and weed out fake visas.
Rwanda for instance has the requisite ICT equipment but is waiting for the other EAC member countries to acquire them as well.
Rwanda’s Minister of East African Community Affairs, Monique Mukaruliza says that much as Rwanda is ready to implement the EAC single tourist visa, it cannot go it alone.
The EAC Sectoral Council on Tourism and Wildlife Management is not happy too, saying the process had been long overdue.
As a result, the Council has, however, sanctioned the EAC Partner States which are prepared to introduce the single visa to proceed bilaterally under the principle of variable geometry.
In May 2011, the EAC announced that a single tourist visa that allows for travel to Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania and Rwanda would be operational in July 1, 2012, but now Ms Mukuraliza says beating the July 1 deadline is impossible.
The single EAC visa system, if enacted, is expected to allow visitors to use one visa to enter any of the countries in the EAC.
The move to have the single EAC visa followed an appeal by tourism boards of partner states requesting for a common visa to accelerate promotion of the region as a single tourist destination.
Under the proposal, the visa would be issued by any partner state’s embassy abroad.
It is expected that the single visa will save potential tourists time and the anguish of having to hop from one embassy to another to apply for different visas to travel across the East African region.
Analysts say that although the EAC leaders have always expressed their enthusiasm to have the joint travel permit in place to facilitate free movement of visitors, very little has been done on the ground.
“Despite the high expectations that the East African tourists’ single visa would revolutionise the tourism sector in the region, the process is taking too long,” says Tanzania Association of Tour Operator executive officer, Sirili Akko.
Kenya’s Minister for Tourism, Najib Balala says fear of the unknown and unfounded suspicions harboured by some partner states, was holding back efforts to take the Community to the next level of integration.
“A single tourist visa will bring diversity which will in turn make East Africa one of the top tourist destinations not only on the African continent but in the entire world,” Mr Balala said.