On March 2, 2016, the East African Community heads of state launched the new-generation EAC e-passport and directed that its issuance takes effect from January 1, 2017.
The heads of state further directed that the partner states should implement a phase-out programme for the East African and national passports from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2018.
However, owing to procurement rigors, issuance could not start as per the directive. Currently, all partner states save for the Republic of South Sudan are issuing the new-generation EAC e-passport.
A regional passport is obviously not a new development in the EAC. In fact the East African passport predates the current EAC. While the EAC was revived in 1999 upon the signing of the Treaty, the first EAC passport was launched in November 1998.
This was by the Permanent Tripartite Commission for East African Cooperation, a precursor to current EAC. Thus, since 1998, citizens from the EAC countries have been able to access a special travel document, which allows them to travel with ease within the regional bloc. Its use was, however, limited because it was not recognized internationally, meaning that it was not accepted as a travel document beyond East Africa.
Since December 18, 2018, the government of Uganda has been issuing the EAC e-passport and in effect started the phase-out programme of the Ugandan national passport. The two travel documents will, however, remain in use concurrently until December 2021, in line with the new timelines set by the EAC.
This, being a new initiative championed partly because of EAC integration, some questions linger in the minds of Ugandans. This is understandable. Therefore, as the issuance continues, we shall keep our communication lines open so that we address all concerns of Ugandans. I will dwell partly in this article on the legal perspective to explain the legal and policy framework that underscores the issuance of the EAC e-passport.
From the outset, it should be noted that the EAC e-passport is being issued in line with the existing Ugandan legal framework. According to the Passports Act 1982, the minister responsible for internal affairs is mandated to appoint a senior immigration officer to be a passports control officer. Under the same law, the administration, control and supervision of all matters relating to passports and any other travel documents shall be vested in the passports control officer, subject to the directions of the minister.
On the type of passport, the same law provides that “There shall be such types and categories of passports and other travel documents as the minister may, from time to time, by statutory instrument, prescribe”.
Further still, and for purposes of uniformity, the Treaty establishing the EAC in Article 104 provides that, “The Partner States shall, as may be determined by the Council:
• ease border crossing by citizens of the Partner States;
• maintain common standard travel documents for their citizens;
Additionally, according to Article 9 of the EAC Common Market Protocol, a citizen of a partner state who wishes to travel to another partner state shall use a valid common standard travel document. It is thus in this context that:
• The partner states came up with and agreed to the use of the East African passport for travel within the EAC since 1998
• The northern corridor partner states agreed to the use of the national ID as an authentic travel document for their nationals since 2014.
• The EAC heads of state launched the new-generation EAC e-passport in 2016.
Thus, the process of the issuance of the EAC e-passport is anchored on both Ugandan laws and the Treaty establishing the EAC plus other protocols and legal instruments agreed thereunder from time to time.
Other Ugandans are asking, can I travel in the EAC partner states without a passport or national ID? Yes you can, though it is advisable that you acquire at least the National ID to make your travel experience seamless.
Among the northern corridor partner states of Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, you can use your national ID. At the point of exit (Entebbe Airport, Busia, Malaba Katuna and other border posts with Kenya and Rwanda) you present your ID and you are issued an Interstate Pass at no cost.
The interstate pass (together with your national ID) will work as your passport during your itinerary. With regard to the other partner states, you can use a Temporary Travel Permit/Pass issued by the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control.
This temporary travel pass is issued on the basis of presentation of a credible form of identification, say, a driving permit, an employees’ ID or students ID. Please note that this Temporary Travel Permit/Pass is issued at a cost of 10,000/= (Uganda shillings ten thousand only).
By and large, therefore, Ugandans are encouraged to apply for and acquire the new-generation EAC e-passport. Because of advances in technology, security concerns and requirements by the International Civil Aviation Authority, all travelers must ultimately use e-passports.
The author is the principal public officer, Ministry of East African Community Affairs.