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Architects get free pass for cross-border practice

By | December 15th 2011

Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi have now signed an agreement under the East African Community (EAC) Common Market Protocol that allows architects from the EAC to freely practise their profession in any of the countries. Engineers, quantity surveyors, contractors, developers, project managers and planners are also encouraged to do the same, writes ALLAN OLINGO

July this year in Kampala, architects from within the East Africa Community (EAC), under the banner of East Africa Institute of Architects, signed the Architects Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA), which was negotiated in accordance with the EAC Common Market Protocol.

Eriya Kategaya, Uganda’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Affairs, congratulated the architects of East Africa for the major milestone on the road to integration by signing the agreement.

"It is commendable that you are among the first professionals to recognise the potential benefits of the East African Common Market and seize the opportunity," said Kategaya while witnessing the signing in Kampala.

Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) chairman Steven Oundo stresses that the signing of the MRA was an integral part of the implementation and was the beginning of harmonising of professional values within the region. Architects will now not need a permit to operate within Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

"It (the agreement) binds you to comply with the provisions of the Common Market protocol. The world is moving fast and we cannot afford to stand and watch other regions advance while we ponder what to do," Oundo says.

Currently, the East Africa Institute of Architects has a rotational presidency. The current president is the head of Uganda Society of Architects.

According to Oundo, the agreement meant that all the architects from within the member states that signed it will be able to work anywhere within the East African Community.

Says Oundo: "Within the common market agreement, there was the agreement over the free movement of goods, services and labour. We thought this was an opportune moment to push for our members to exploit the opportunities presented by this agreement."

While addressing architects during the annual AAK chairman’s dinner this year, the Works Secretary at the Ministry of Public Works, Gideon Mulyungi, announced they were currently trying to synchronise the education systems to harmonise the architectural training curricula in the region.

"If we have a synchronised training curriculum, we will also be able to standardise our practice," notes Mulyungi.

Oundo agrees with this, saying that with a levelled curriculum for the educational institutions in East Africa, there will be a continuous professional development programme, which will be able to cut across the region.

Says Oundo: "The aim of reviving the East African Institute of Architects in 2004 was to create, among architects, ties based on friendship, understanding and mutual gain to enable them share ideas and experience, and broaden their perspective."

Tanzania, however, often hesitant to ratify the East African Community, did not sign the agreement. An architect who preferred to remain anonymous and who has done a major project in Tanzania suspects the reason could be because of Tanzania’s conservative nature and the government’s preoccupation with protecting the available opportunities for its professionals.

"Tanzania feels that with the opening up of the borders, other countries with aggressive professionals will take up the available opportunities, as their professionals might not have that competitive edge," opined the architect.


Says Oundo: "Instead of being limited to one country, there will be a wide geographical area to ply one’s trade. Kenya has a population of only 40 million but with a combined population of around 120 million, the opportunities in East Africa are bound to be bigger, and this is what our members are now seeing."

There is also the benefit of the transfer of knowledge.

"Countries like Rwanda and Burundi stand to benefit from the expertise of Kenyans who have enjoyed stability and have seasoned, experienced professionals," adds Oundo.

The new Constitution in Kenya also gives the other countries immense opportunities, especially with the formation of county governments, which will open up the real estate sector within the country.

"Interestingly, 70 per cent of architects in the world are found in developed countries yet 70 per cent of the architectural work in the world is in Africa. This should be a challenge to the indigenous people to take advantage of the opportunities," says Oundo.

According to AAK vice chairman Waweru Gathecha, the over-dependence on donor funding by most governments will be a challenge.

Says he: "Most donors impose conditions and always route for their professionals to be in charge of these projects. This denies the local professional an opportunity to benefit from the projects."

Gathecha cites the construction of major roads such as the bypasses and the Thika Superhighway as examples of imported expertise and semi-skilled labour.

"The EAC offers an opportunity for residents to choose from local professionals, which will translate into local growth. When the regional economy grows, it attracts investors as was seen with the birth of the Euro Zone," says Gathecha.

Despite this move, there still exists various challenges that architects within the region face. Key among them is the inhibition and resistance towards change.

Gathecha also notes that the society holds the perception that anything foreign will always take away the opportunities that locals should have had and this is a problem for architects trying to get beyond their borders.

"It’s great to have free movement of labour but the language barrier may also prove a challenge. Professionals from Anglophone countries might have a hard time practising in Francophone countries like Burundi," says Gathecha.

The chairman of AAK’s Engineers Chapter, Nathaniel Matalanga, says engineers were not part of the Mutual Recognition Agreement, which means they will still need to apply for permits to work within the East African Community.


Says Matalanga: "The agreement bound only architects. Kenya has a limited number of engineers (approximately 5,600), and expecting them to practise in other East African countries would stretch them beyond their capacity when the local situation is dire."

Oundo says that the EAC has given architects immense support, with the office at the Arusha secretariat having a chief executive officer who coordinates the architects’ activities.

Says Oundo: "Other professional bodies can learn from these initiatives and emulate the unity in exploiting the opportunities available."

Mulyungi lauds the initiative saying it will level the playing field in the region and promote regional professionalism and work ethics.

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