Impeding Integration in East Africa

by Rachel Wolf:

Inside halls lined by haphazard stacks of crumbling employment files, the recalcitrance and cluelessness of Tanzania’s government threaten to sink regional aspirations to economic integration. Spurred by the successes of European common markets, the East African Community (EAC), which unites Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania around shared development goals, plans to enact a Common Market Protocol in November. Like the EU’s, the EAC protocol would mandate free movement of goods, labor, services, and capital among member states. The five nations are already preparing for integration’s inevitable complications: In early June, the United Kingdom and EAC held a “migration management” seminar on human trafficking, document fraud, and asylum claims. Focus on these secondary complications assumes that EAC states could handle the direct effects of increased migration. In Tanzania, that assumption may be dangerously charitable. The nation stands unequipped to weather a surge in basic migration.

Greater labor mobility would increase competition for jobs requiring professional-quality English. (Martin/TYG)

If integration does come to this East African nation, its residence permit will be issued on the fifth floor of Hifadhi House, home to the Tanzanian Ministry of Labour, Employment, and Youth Development and a four-foot mountain of folders crowned by an upended swivel chair. Without hard data, this file-strewn office monitors immigration patterns based on common knowledge and general impressions. “So many Kenyans are coming here,” Labour Officer Ikusubisya Kasebele said. Hunched over the desk from which he was substituting for a vacationing director of employment, Kasebele painted bleak prospects for Tanzanians should the EAC usher in free movement of labor. According to him and other professionals in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam, Kenyan migrants’ sharper English-language skills give them an edge in the Tanzanian labor market.

In a protectionist move, Tanzania has tried to kill a section of the proposed common labor market that would require free issue of residence permits to citizens of other EAC nations. “We want to balance things: movement of labor, movement of goods,” Kasebele said. The EAC’s planned free movement of labor promises more upset than balance. A wiser ministry might try managing migration rather than stonewalling to stem its flow, but Tanzania’s Labour Ministry doesn’t possess sufficient file cabinets, much less sufficient foresight. Its non-governmental partners are similarly sidetracked. According to Tanzania Programme Officer Monika Peruffo, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) also overlooks economic migrants within Tanzania. Inexplicably, no one has focused on the real issue at hand: managing migration. A government immigration officer confirmed that Kasebele’s office considers migrants’ applications for residence permits, but Kasebele admitted: “We don’t have any procedures or policies about labor migration.”

Instead of focusing on migration into Tanzania, the labor ministry has fixated on potential remittances from Tanzanians working outside East Africa in nations such as the United Arab Emirates. But even these efforts face the ministry’s utter disorganization. In all its towering piles of crumbling folders, the office does not have any records or information on migrant laborers either inside or outside the country. The most recent government data available, a 2002 census and labor statistics from 2001, are too old to shape future-looking policies. Kasebele said the ministry has relied on information from the IOM, which surveys the Tanzanian diaspora through an online questionnaire.

“We need to do a study,” Kasebele said. “We have a problem of information. Last year we were invited to attend a meeting, the Global Forum on Migration and Development. We needed to submit a report on what we have done on migration issues.” Unsurprisingly, they had done nothing. The ministry drew up a scant three-page document and made plans to pass off the composition of a labor migration policy “to some lecturers from universities who do studies and have experience with these things,” Kasebele said. That the Ministry of Labour has less experience with labor migration policy than do local academics bodes poorly.

Whether or not a slapdash policy on remittances will boost the Tanzanian economy remains irrelevant to the question of how Tanzania will weather greater regional integration. Even if Tanzania succeeds in scuttling a common labor market for East Africa, workers will continue to contend with some level of economic migration into the country. Without policies, data, or officials concentrated on the issue, the only things Tanzania’s Labour Ministry will be “balancing” are stacks of paperwork.

Rachel Wolf’10 is a Political Science major in Saybrook College.