By Renn Offor
On the 20th February 2014, in Uganda, the presidents of Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda officially launched the new common tourist visa. The three countries combined in that region attract more than 4million visitors each year, and the single tourist visa was to be a major milestone in the development of a common tourism promotion strategy, which will market East Africa as a single tourism destination. The visa rules stipulates that a tourists can chose between a single country visa for US$50 and an EAC tourist visa for US$100, allowing them to move freely between the three countries for a period of 90 days.
Yet ever since the introduction of the EAC visa, several constraints, particularly seeming to come more from Uganda seems to defeat the whole essence of the intention of the EAC visa.
In a recent post on her facebook page by Charlotte Beauvoisin, she lamented the constraints her parents encountered while trying to secure an EAC visa and asked Wolfgang Thome to answer her. And Wolfgang actually did in another write up of his, which actually brought alive arguments that suggest that Uganda may have been charging higher visa fees if not double visa fees from tourists. Won’t this be jeopardizing the whole essence and vision of the EAC visa?
In Charlotte Beauvoisin own words, “Can anyone enlighten me? If you are or a friend are planning to travel to Uganda and wish to buy an East African Community tourist visa, you are advised to have a printed copy of your itinerary with you, to show the other countries you plan to visit after Uganda (according to immigration at Entebbe airport). Ugandan tourist visa costs $100. EAC tourist visa costs $100. I’m very annoyed that my mum and dad were only allowed to purchase a Ugandan tourist visa. We are travelling to Rwanda and then back to Uganda this week, so it appears that they will now have to pay an extra $30 (to enter Rwanda) + $100 (to get back into Uganda). It seems that Ugandan immigration want to keep the whole $100 and not abide by the agreement they have signed up to! I highly doubt this is the way it is meant to work, but someone correct me if I’m wrong? Not easy to find information – online or through people I know. Will my mum and dad be able to get an EAC visa when they enter Rwanda, even though we are already in the EAC? Wolfgang H. Thome, I’m asking you first!”
Before delving into the reactions of friends on facebook, it may be worthwhile to recollect that the East Africa Tourist Visa was established to allow travels between Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda with the same multiple entry visas. It was intended at its inception to boost regional travels and create opportunities for tourists to explore the diversity of East Africa.
The visa was meant for any foreigner who wants to visit simultaneously the Republic of Kenya, Republic of Rwanda and Republic of Uganda for tourism. The visa will be issued at any of the diplomatic representations of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, at the immigration offices of the respective countries or on line where applicable. It is called East Africa Tourist Visa, and it is multiple entry visa, stipulated to be valid only for 90 days.
Specifically, for travellers or tourists beginning their trip in Uganda, apart from finding information on the visa application process on the consular section of any local Uganda embassy’s website, the a person must possess any genuine acceptable travel document valid not less than 6 months.
The visa fee is USD100 and has a validity period of 90 days. It is a single or multiples entry visa. The holder of the East Africa Tourist Visa is stipulated to enter or start his tour from the country that issued the visa and move within the two other countries without applying for another visa or paying for another visa fee. And the holder shall also be allowed to move out of the Republic of Kenya, Republic of Rwanda and Republic of Uganda; and return without having to pay for another visa. This will only be applicable in the period of 90 days.
From this background, let us return to the reactions to Charlottes’s post.
Debbie Willis, who works with Red Chilli Hideaway, Kampala, Uganda responded to Charlotte that, ‘ I have heard of loads of problems with this but my parents came into Entebbe airport and got an East African visa no problems and without having to show proof of their onward travel plans to Kenya. Seems very hit and miss…’
Another friend of hers, Ann Bates, responding to her explained her own experience at the hands of the immigration in Uganda: ‘We did have to say, but without proof of travel, where we were going and when. This appeared to be all that was necessary even though we did have Kenyan air tickets we could have shown if necessary’.
But Deb Gilbert had another approach to solving the difficult situation at the immigration, saying that being mean and insistent could be all you might just need to get past the difficulties the immigration might haul at you. ‘We’ve had visitors who were definitely given a hard time about it, but INSISTED that they be given the EA tourist visa and did finally receive. I guess you have to be MEAN! Sorry about your folks’!
But Baluku Geoffrey wondered if a tour itinerary is a basic condition for the issuing of EAC visa, even as he requested answers from Waturi. ‘From my private research, one question comes to mind: “Probably Waturi Wa Matu will guide on this: Is a tourist (tour/Safari) itinerary for Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda a precondition for getting the East Africa Single Tourist Visa? Does one have to show a confirmed safari itinerary so as to be eligible to get the EA Tourist visa or is it a blank cheque? That is where or what I think immigration is challenged about which makes sense; otherwise there arises a possibility of many visitors abusing this service. In short, what I am raising is the element of determining a tourist and not the so many immigrants who may come under the disguise of a tourist. Just like if traveling to South Africa or any European country as a tourist, a precondition for where one will stay, activities to engage in through tour is paramount. This loop hole needs to be urgently addressed in the protocol’.
The most expatiated response seemed to come from Wolfgang in another write up of his. Wolfgang said that Uganda has already been noted as East Africa’s most expensive country to enter, with visa fees of US$100, and that claims have now emerged that the Ugandan Immigration at Entebbe International Airport is refusing visitors to issue the common tourist visit to visitors to the country, which was agreed by the NCIP – short for Northern Corridor Integration Projects – countries two years ago to promote increased travels across the region.
‘Several cases have emerged over the past weeks first registered in disbelief; yet more came to light today when a fellow travel blogger went public after her parents were denied the common visa as they could reportedly not demonstrate that their travel itinerary included side trips, in this case to Rwanda as they arrived in Entebbe.
‘Many independent travellers, especially backpackers and those falling into the VFR – short for Visiting Friends and Relatives – category, however, often do not have printed tour itineraries but nevertheless wish to visit neighbouring countries under the common visa arrangement. These travellers, however, now need to watch out that they are not being fobbed off by immigration officials on arrival and later on compelled to buy another visa when crossing the borders to Kenya or Rwanda so that Uganda can pocket the entire US$100 and not have to share with their neighbours as the agreement provides for.
‘No such cases are reported from the Kenyan or Rwanda side, seemingly singling out Uganda for what would amount to non-compliance with the agreements of the common visa, which was expressly launched to encourage cross-border tours and travel’.
Wolfgang explained that as yet it could not be established if this behaviour can be attributed to mischievous individuals working at immigration, at Entebbe, or if not, it is an unspoken and hitherto hidden new policy by Uganda’s Department of Immigration.
He however went on to explained that recently President Museveni has laid into the department for corrupt practices and should the reports received be part of a greater trend, no doubt another nail is driven into the coffin of reputation of the service.
‘Clarification is now being sought by the tourism industry, and individuals have raised the issue with the East Africa Tourism Platform, which has been the main promoter of the common visa for participating East African countries.
‘Meanwhile, travellers intent to visit Uganda before moving on to Rwanda and Kenya, are advised to first provide some form of printed expression of intent, or hotel/travel bookings to substantiate their demand for a common East African tourist Visa and avoid being denied one on flimsy grounds and then compelled to spend more money when crossing the borders’, Wolfgang conluded.