Hopes, challenges, opportunities and impediments - By BOB WEKESA
A DONE DEAL: The five Presidents of the EAC member states sign the Protocol
The Common Market will serve a 120-million-person-plus economy when it comes into effect in July
Two-thousand-andnine was the season of optimism and a defining year for the bold new East Africa. By signing the Common Market protocol at the conclusion of tough negotiations, the presidents of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda set the region on a new wave of buoyancy. For the Common Market agreement means the longsought- after-political federation is no longer a mirage. According to a schedule of commitments, the five-nation bloc should transition to a political federation in 2015. This ideal should be achieved through a five-pronged approach beginning with a Customs union, a common market, a monetary union and, finally, fully-fledged political integration. The first hurdle on the burgeoning regional integration path has to all intents and purposes been overcome, what with the Customs Union coming into force in January 2010, having been negotiated and agreed in 2005.
The much more intricate Common Market is set to come into force in July 2010, further meshing and solidifying the currently disparate 120 million-person-plus regional economy. With two major deals struck, integration optimists are bubbling with optimism about the achievability of the monetary union by 2013. Thus far, the East African integration process is firmly on course, save for concerns about the economic prowess of the Kenyan economy, which is bigger than the Ugandan and Tanzanian economies combined. Speaking shortly after the signingof the Common Market treaty in November, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania sought to allay fears of the dominance of the Kenyan economy over the rest of the partner states, citing, ironically, the meteoric growth of the Tanzanian economy since the signing of the Customs Union in 2005. Indeed, the Common Market protocol that looks to free movement of capital in the region was delayed by a couple of months on the back of Tanzania’s foot dragging over fears that the country would be the worse for wear once the more aggressive Kenyans were let loose to seek employment, acquire permanent residence and unhindered travel and secure land throughout the region.Diplomat EA has learned that with Tanzania slowing the pace of negotiations, the four remaining partners moved to agree on the Common Market with the caveat that Tanzania would join in at a later date. This seems to have spurred Tanzania into returning to the negotiating table with alacrity in July 2009.
Delegates attending the celebrations were optimistic that the next decade will see the attainment of a political federation with all the attendant benefits. “The collapse of the initial EAC in 1977 was because politics and ideology took precedence over economic considerations. This time round, the Community is proceeding from laying the economic foundation as a means of achieving a political federation”, said Mr. Faustin Kananura Mbundu, Chairman of the Arushabased East African Business Council (EABC), the specialized body that enjoys observer status in the EAC Treaty and has made substantial contributions to the practical aspects of the Customs Union and Common Market. Riding on the wave of integration enthusiasm, President Museveni introduced a magnanimous angle to the placement of economic benefits ahead of the more fractious political equation during the Summit.
BUSINESS FIRST: East African Business Council trio, from (left), Chairman Faustin Kananura Mbundu, Vice Chairman Kelly Kiilu and John Bosco Rusagara,Chairman of the freight forwarders’ association in the region at the EAC 10th Anniversary celebrations at AICC
The EABC Vice Chairman, who is also a director with the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, Keli Kiilu, reckons competition for opportunities will be healthy rather than inward looking. One of the major factors spurring the steady strides made by the Community is the joining in of Rwanda and Burundi in 2007. This geographic and economic expansion of the Community has not only served to reduce the traditional rivalries between the traditional EAC partners – Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to the conflict resolution agendain this part of the world. Burundi is particularly a major beneficiary on this score. “We have been devastated by civil war but now that we are in EAC, we have brothers and sisters to look up to for help”, said President Pierre Nkurunziza. Already, multilateral partners interested in working with the supra entity have taken the cue to enter into development agreements with the fledgling federation. Germany is of special importance in these respects, having funded peace building efforts on the regional scale as well as bankrolling the building of the EAC Headquarters in Arusha, whose foundation stone was laid on November 20 2009.
Over and above the EAC Secretariat – proposed for elevation into a decision-making Commission – other organs of the Community have matured since the 1999 treaty. Particularly significant is the 35-member East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), which has over the last eight years of existence anchored the Community by passing 25 diverse pieces of legislation. The feel-good effect of this was all too evident during a special session of EALA as part of the anniversary celebrations. A refrain in the speeches by the speakers of the five national assemblies was that EALA is the prototype for not only other regional bodies on the continent, but, in the words of EALA Speaker Abdiraham Abdi, – but also infused a regional perspective the Pan- African Assembly which has yet to get off the ground properly. While EALA has come of age fairly fast, it faces many challenges. “The financing of EALA work is mostly through remittances by the partner states. Much as these countries eventually pay, sometimes bureaucracies make it impossible for the remittances to be made fast enough and these delays our work”, said Reuben Oyondi, Chairman of the Kenyan chapter of the Assembly. Even where development partners – particularly the EU – support the EALA, this comes with the usual donor conditions. “The level of cooperation in the Assembly is amazing. We are equal partners despite the fact that some countries are smaller than others.
For instance, each country is represented by nine MPs regardless of the population from which we come from”, said Leonce Ndarubagiye, Chairman of the Burundi chapter of the Assembly. Whether this equality will be sustained into the future remains to be seen. Such is the bullish mood around the EAC renewal that a number of eastern Africa nations have started making entreaties to join the Community. Anarchic Somalia and next-door Ethiopia, seat of the African Union, are known to be keenly watching developments in the emerging economic bloc with intentions of joining. Observers see South Sudan, which votes in a referendum on whether to delink from the North in 2011, as a natural member of the eastern Africa bloc. Indeed, intransigent forces in the region are bound to be overwhelmed by the ongoing negotiations for a free trade area that would bring together 46 nations scattered in the EAC, the Southern Africa Development Cooperation (SADC) and the Common Markets for East and South Africa (COMESA). In the final analysis, the ‘one people, one destiny’ slogan will be as good as appreciation of the fragility of the sovereignty of the partners and promotion of the things that unite East Africans and their far-flung catchment area.
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