The East African Community is growing from strength to strength, hanks to the commitment and steadfastness of the people of East Africa, their governments and Members of the East African Legislative Assembly.
The past year was very eventful for our Community and our integration agenda. We celebrated the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the East African Community. December 31st, 2009 marked the successful completion of the 5-year transition period of the East African Customs Union. Beginning January 1st, 2010 East Africa became a full fledged Customs Union region. Since then, all goods produced in East Africa which conform to the agreed rules of origin principle move across the borders of the five East African Community member states duty free and without non-tariff barriers.
Between 2005 and 2008, intra-East African Community trade increased from USD1,847.3 million to USD 2,715.4 million. Government revenues which were feared to drop have not. Instead, there is evidence of increase. The Customs Union has worked well so far but needs smoothening to enable it attain optimal operational status. This calls for continued commitment and dedicated service.
Three things need to be given special attention: The first one is how to fully integrate Rwanda and Burundi into the East African Customs Union. The second is how to make our region a single customs territory where duties for imported goods are paid at the port of entry. This will curb evasion of tax by unscrupulous importers and ensure that revenues due to the nation where goods are destined are expeditiously and duly remitted by the collecting nation. The third thing is the removal of physical and non physical infrastructure related barriers. This is critical for smooth flow of trade and our people, who are the main actors and objects of the integration project. Good physical infrastructure such as roads, railways, ports, inland water ways, airports, energy and telecommunications are essential for a well functioning customs union and common market. We need to do a lot more in terms of using own resources where possible and mobilisation of donor support, where feasible, for infrastructure development in East Africa.
The signing of the Common Market Protocol propelled the East African Community into the most advanced regional integration organisation on the African continent. All member states have started the process of ratification of the Protocol. Come 1st July, 2010 the EAC Common Market will be in place. Work is underway on the draft protocol on the establishment of the Monetary Union.
The significance of the EAC Common Market should also be viewed in the context of the emerging COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite arrangement whereby the three Regional Economic Communities are working towards the establishment of a Grand Free Trade Area, later a Customs Union and eventually their merger into one Economic Community. Consultations are underway to hold the Tripartite Summit during this year where the Heads of State will give the exact date for the commencement of the FTA.
Through the Tripartite Arrangement, a unique collaboration has emerged to address regional infrastructure challenges. COMESA-EAC-SADC are jointly working on mobilising resources for the development of the major transport corridors in our new expanded region. They include: the North-South Corridor linking the port of Dar-es-Salaam and the port of Durban; the Northern Corridor linking the Mombasa Port with Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern DRC; and the Central Corridor linking Dar-es-Salaam Port with Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern DRC.
Under the Tripartite arrangement, plans are being made to hold an Aid for Trade Conference to identify potential resources for the development of these three corridors. A new Corridor is also under development linking the new Port at Lamu with Juba in Southern Sudan and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. The Kenya Government is at an advanced stage in securing funding for implementation.
DROUGHT AND FOOD SECURITY
The year 2009 was very challenging for the economic wellbeing of our countries. Firstly, there was the worst drought our region has encountered in many decades. Crops failed and pastoralists in some parts of Kenya and northern Tanzania lost a lot of their livestock. We need to improve on our disaster preparedness, ensure food security and pay greater attention to the environmental threats and its direct effect on the quality of lives of our people.
The other challenge was the global economic crisis. None of our countries was responsible for this but we suffered adversely and continue to suffer from its effects. We have suffered from declining demand, low prices for our exports, low tourist arrivals and low revenues. As a result, GDP growth declined to less than projected. We need to discuss this problem and agree on the common course of action.
POLITICS AND DEMOCRACY
Within the coming 10 months, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda will be holding elections. Kenya will hold a constitutional referendum and so will Tanzania, Zanzibar. We have an opportunity to demonstrate to the entire world and to our own people, that democratic values are taking root in our Community. We have to ensure that the elections and referendums are conducted in a free, fair and peaceful manner. Entrenching democratic values in our region is critical for smooth integration, peace and prosperity. Time has come for the East African Community to develop common principles and guidelines governing democratic elections in our region and ensure their observance.
CRITICAL ISSUES, CHALLENGES AND THE WAY FORWARD
Sustainable financing of the Community: This is a long standing issue. Deeper integration requires higher levels of resource availability. Apart from perennial appeals to Partner States for timely remittances, it is imperative that we develop alternative mechanisms of funding the EAC.
Planning and implementation of regional programmes: We have just embarked on the preparation of the 4th EAC Development Strategy (2011-2016). We need to ensure, therefore, that the Strategy focuses on well selected objectives which are Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.
Greater political will and popular participation in the Community: This involves a multi-variety of interventions by the broad spectrum of EAC stakeholders on aligning national visions, activities and strategic plans to regional integration objectives and goals. The overriding principle of a people centred integration demands that the East African regional integration process be owned by the people for it to have relevance and chance of success.
The successes we have attained are so precious that we must make all efforts to protect and sustain them. We must guard against reversals as happened in 1977. East Africa’s political leaders, journalists, opinion leaders and commentators must avoid taking actions or making utterances that would antagonise another Partner State or their leaders and people. We should realise that words, as much as deeds, brought down the EAC in 1977. We cannot move forward this integration project in an atmosphere of bad faith and mistrust.
We should not rejoice at, or partake in engineering the setbacks of our fellow members. And, we certainly do not have to be despondent at, or downplay, the triumphs of our fellow members. If we let these things take hold, we will just move with our integration on paper, but we will have left behind the hearts and minds of our people and of our own. We will have failed as leaders because we will weaken the noble institution we are trying to build with dire consequences. We cannot afford to fail this time around. We should all say, Never and Never Again.”
By H.E Jakaya Kikwete,
President of the United Republic of Tanzania.