Nairobi — Kenya is seeking the services of leading mobile phone companies in an ambitious campaign to market the East African Community Common Market. In an Obama-inspired campaign — where ICT played a major role in galvanising public support — the country plans to educate all the 17 million Kenyans who own mobile phones on how they stand to benefit from the Common Market, whose protocol was signed a month ago. It will do this through short text messages. Radio will also be used widely — targeting mainly rural areas. The campaign is spearheaded by the Ministry of East African Community. It will also target specific groups that stand to benefit most from the Common Market. These groups include large firms with cross-border operations, institutions of higher learning, labour unions, federation of employers, bankers association and teachers unions.
Under the Common Market, citizens of the EAC partner states will move freely across the region’s borders. Companies that choose to set up operations in one or more member states will be treated equally with local ones; those who wish to work in another partner state will compete for jobs with local people on equal terms; and those who choose to permanently live in another member country will not be treated as a foreigners. However, Kenya’s EAC Ministry fears that many Kenyans — and East Africans by extension — are still not aware of the benefits of the Common Market. “The Common Market protocol has far-reaching implications for the region in terms of free movement, investment, doing business, immigration rules and labour laws. Therefore, the people need to be sensitised. “We need to explain to them the reasoning behind the various articles in the protocol,” said EAC Ministry Permanent Secretary David Nalo.
On the evening of November 20 when the protocol was signed, the BBC was interviewed people crossing major border points like Namanga and Malaba to establish if they knew what the Common Market would mean for them. “Many of them were ignorant about it,” Mr Nalo said, adding that the ministry has developed a multipronged communication strategy to tackle this challenge. “We’ll undertake a benchmarking exercise — something like an opinion poll — across the border posts (Malaba, Isbania, Busia, Namanga, Holili and Mt Elgon). This will help us design an appropriate communication programme for various people.” Mobile phones feature prominently in the communication strategy.”They are a powerful means of communication,” Mr Nalo said. The basic information to be relayed will include simple questions such as: What is a Common Market? what is free movement of capital? and so on.