For some people, open borders that are essential for regional integration seem to contradict border security. In East Africa, where regional integration is progressing, managing border security while urging for free movement of persons and goods can pose a challenge. A central solution approach that is already adopted is the concept of One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs). The GIZ Support to the African Union Border Programme (GIZ-AUBP) cooperates with the EAC in operationalising these OSBPs via capacity development.
OSBPs can be defined as a single building at the border where border agencies from two neighbouring countries are present. Ideally, their systems are interconnected so that they can conduct checks jointly on the side of the country of entrance. The OSBP concept is one of the strong embodiments of Coordinated Border Management (CBM). In contrast, before establishing the OSBP concept, each country had their own border crossing points, where border agencies worked in silos, and where people and goods were subject to two checks – one at the country of exit, one at the country of entry – by both respective national authorities who mostly did not share information among each other. Implementing the concept of OSBPs brought a noticeable difference for both border agencies and users of the crossing points.
Within the cooperation between GIZ-AUBP and the EAC Secretariat one regional training tool on operationalising OSBPs and coordinated border management was developed and border officers trained about the essence and goal of the OSBPs. This fostered the capacities of operating officers with a harmonised knowledge – given that they come from different agencies, different countries, yet bound to work together. For Director General Customs and Trade of the EAC, Kenneth Bgamuhunda, the benefits are obvious, “It is through such common training and capacity building instruments that EAC guarantees that officials and stakeholders within the EAC are equitably equipped to fully participate in the regional integration agenda.” In addition, the initiative improved operation procedures of administrations from neighbouring countries, thereby also advancing regional integration within the EAC.
Following a ‘Training of Trainers’, over 350 officers from immigration, customs, border police, intelligence, port health, plant and veterinary, revenue authorities have been trained at twelve OSBPs throughout all six EAC Partner States within a two-year period. With the operationalisation of the OSBPs and the joint training “we discover each other, we discover our complementarity, we discover our common challenges and shared responsibility to ensure the security of our countries borders while fostering regional integration”, stressed Daniel Kalimuzo, Customs Officer at the Gatuna-Katuna OSBP after taking part in the exercises.
All this is having an impact at several levels. Firstly, the coordination of border officers and agencies has led to a more efficient identification of cross-border criminal activities. Secondly, it has reduced the number of arrests of citizens by officers form either side of the border, which used to create tensions between administrations from neighbouring countries. Thirdly, the coordination and one-check process resulted in swifter border crossings reportedly reducing waiting time for people and goods by approximately 45%, which is a tremendous economic and social gain. This goes to show – open borders and border security can go hand in hand.