Free Labor Movement in the East African Community

By Miguel E. Eusse Bencardino

In 2010 the East African Community (EAC) created a common market protocol under which products and services can move freely between borders to enhance regional economic integration and global competitiveness. Last November the East African Business Council (EABC) led a successful initiative to extend the agreement to include the free movement of workers across borders. This allows cooks, accountants, engineers, and other service workers to work temporarily in Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya. The agreement integrates the service sector into East African economies, providing a needed source of sustainable development and employment for the region.

The initiative began with public-private dialogues supported by international development agencies, including The German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), the African Capacity Building Foundation, and the International Trade Center. The discussions identified the issue of labor mobility as an obstacle in the region’s plan for integration and development. Ugandan engineers hoping to work in Tanzania, for example, were not able to provide their services because of government restrictions and high taxation. Such stories prompted the EAC’s Council of Ministers to endorse the initiative to create a legal framework for free labor movement.

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The East African Community flag (EAC)

International commercial blocs around the world have similar free labor agreements; the Pacific Alliance between the governments of Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile is one example. The Lima Declaration of 2011 states that “the movement of business people and the facilitation of migration transit, including the cooperation with immigration and consular police” is a priority. Continue reading