The simmering test of unity and identity crisis facing the East African Community must be addressed soberly. The recent exclusion of Tanzania from EAC infrastructure meetings; the Uganda-Kenya standoff on rice exports and Rwanda’s retaliatory road toll charges against Tanzanian trucks does not augur well for a region tied together by history.
In response to the allegation by Rwandan traders that Tanzanian officials at the Rusumo border post made it difficult for them to obtain the simplified certificate of origin, Rwanda slapped a 228 per cent increase (USD 152 to USD 500) of road toll on Tanzanian trucks. In the recent past, there has been a stand-off between Uganda and Kenya on rice exports. Uganda charges a 100 per cent common external tariff (CET) on rice grown in Kenya, on the reasoning that Kenya enjoys a stay of application on CET on rice of 35 per cent.
The growing number of unresolved trade related disputes show that the East African partner states are still lagging behind in implementing the Common Market Protocol, just two years away from the 2015 deadline. The protocol, which calls for the free movement of goods, labour, capital and services in the region, came into effect on July 1, 2010, and was to be implemented over a five-year period. While EAC partner states in principle agreed to remove non-tariff barriers (NTBs) by December 2012, action has largely depended on the willingness of the different countries.
East African regional interconnectivity dates back to pre-colonial days. The region’s elites should not overplay sibling rivalry at the expense of the benefits of a unified single market. East African leaders must show maturity and come on the negotiating table to iron out differences and misunderstandings.