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MPs demand govt response over treatment of Ugandans in EAC partner states

Several Ugandans who have plied their trade in EAC partner states have often complained of unfair treatment, with some being terminated from jobs or barred from engaging in some businesses

PARLIAMENT | Legislators on the Committee on East African Community Affairs have slammed government for what they said was “failure to protect Ugandan professionals and traders from unfair treatment in partner states.”

The MPs have expressed several reservations about the EAC Common Market Protocol that guarantees free movement of labour and services in partner states, arguing that whereas regional citizens continue to work and carry out trade in Uganda flawlessly, Ugandans are discriminated against in partner states like Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.

The MPs were meeting the State minister for EAC Affairs Julius Maganda, who presented a report on the level of mainstreaming of EAC integration across government.

Harmonisation of labour policies for the purposes of guaranteeing free movement of labour is enshrined in Article 12 of the EAC Protocol on Common Markets. It provides that member states harmonise labour policies, laws, and programmes to enable the free movement of labour within the EAC region.

However, across the borders, immigration officials in Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania continue to slap big fees on work permits — which should ideally be free of charge.

Over the years, there have been complaints that Ugandans in partner states are victimised against in labour policies, especially when Tanzania targeted Ugandans and Rwandans for deportation three years ago.

Last year, several Ugandans in Kenya and Rwanda lost their jobs under what they called illegal termination. In Rwanda especially, several Ugandans were laid off from different sectors starting in 2017 and culminating in the sacking of all journalists employed in the country.

Legislators on the EAC committee feel Uganda has very open borders despite its citizens facing a different attitude at partner states.

Kampala Woman Nabilah Nagayi noted that the treaty is not being respected by partner states who place several bottlenecks to block Ugandans from prospering in their countries.

The minister tried to convince the MPs that the protocols prevented government from impeding free movement of labour, but Nagayi argued that instead of defending the treaty, the minister should have responded by suggesting solutions to the several concerns raised regarding the plight of Ugandans in the region.

“Uganda has embraced the treaty and allows partners members to fully participate freely but when you look at getting a Kenyan working permit, it’s not easy yet we have Kenyans working here. without permits,” Nagayi said.

Her argument was supported by the Koboko County MP James Baba, who highlighted more cases of harassment of Ugandans within the region and pressed the minister to come up with solutions and mechanisms of ironing out the issues.

“What I would have expected the minister to appreciate that we got such complaints, We have got a framework within EAC through the various committees and sectors where we have taken these issues to be addressed. I expected you to inform members that this is how we have negotiated issues of work permit in Kenya or Tanzania. These are the issues we need you to address but not to defend your ministry,” Baba said.

Minister Maganda argued that Uganda cannot hold up the integration process because other countries were slow to open up. He, however, noted that a complaints desk and hotline was available to document all issues of concern which will be debated in Arusha, the seat of the EAC in Tanzania.

“They still have a lot of reservations to open up their market, we have opened up as Uganda but we cannot move back because there is a country that has not opened and that is a challenge we have as a country. These are some of the areas we go back to Arusha and say we have not implemented yet. But we have a desk at the ministry that caters for such,” kabanda said.

In the context of a Common Market, free movement of persons and labour is reflected under Article 104 of the Treaty Establishing EAC and in Article 5 of the Protocol on the Establishment of the EAC Common Market that was adopted in 2009.

The protocol states the right of cross-border movement of persons; the adaption of integrated border management; the removal of restrictions on movement of labour and services; and the right of establishment and residence.

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