East African Community Making Digital Strides

Published on 17th October 2011

The East African Community (EAC) has within a relatively short time since its establishment in 2000, realized tremendous progress in regional co-operation and significant impact on regional development. In real growth terms, the region’s combined GDP has risen to USD 78 billion, up from USD 20 billion in 1999. Following the enlargement of the EAC in 2007, the EAC region now boasts a sizeable market of a combined population of 130 million. The membership of the EAC has expanded from the original three, Kenya Uganda and Tanzania, to the current five that includes Rwanda and Burundi which joined in 2007.

With the consolidation of the Customs Union and establishment of the Common Market, which was launched in July last year, EAC is greatly energized. The regional programme has reached its threshold. Most of the region’s development Master Plans, which had lingered for a long time in the planning and studies phases, having been taken to the implementation stages. These include projects and programmes in the critical areas of Infrastructure, roads, railways, inland waterways, ports and harbors, Communications/ICT, Energy and Civil Aviation, which have been prioritized under the 4th EAC Development Strategy (2011-2016).

Similarly, the EAC is intensifying activities in other sector projects and programmes, including the Agriculture and Rural Development, Industrialization, Lake Victoria Basin Development as well as projects and programmes under the Social Sectors and Co-operation in Political Affairs. EAC has prioritized Trade and Investments promotion activities to the traditional markets in Europe and North America as well as to the new emerging markets of Asia and Latin America.

The EAC Investment Conferences that are held annually since 2008 have realized great success in promoting the region’s economic potentials and investment opportunities. With the hosting of the World Economic Forum for Africa in 2010 and the Africa Investment Forum in 2011 in East Africa, both of which were held in Dar es Salaam, the region has become a major focus of global trade, tourism and investment attention.

The enactment, in 2008 of the EAC Trade Negotiations Act was a major breakthrough in the longstanding search by the EAC Partner States to negotiate as a bloc in the multilateral trade fora. The joint negotiation strategy is currently pursued in the negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union.

EAC is also participating as a bloc at the forefront of the Tripartite EAC-COMESA-SADC initiative towards the establishment of the Grand Free Trade Area of the three major African regional economic communities. This larger trade area will further boost EAC’s market advantage and strength.

We have indeed come a long way, although we still have a long way to go. It is perhaps important that we pause and ask ourselves what makes the East African Community unique. Why is it that the people of East Africa have sought for deeper integration since before independence? Why is it that the demand for independence in East Africa (Uhuru), went hand in hand with the demand for Federation (Shirikisho)? Why is it that despite the difficulties of the 1970s which led to the dissolution of the first East African Community, the project for East African integration refused to be extinguished?

I believe the answer lies in our shared history, a shared culture, as well as our longstanding historical and trade links spanning centuries. If, as some have postulated, Countries can be said to have souls, shared values that make the nations exist and thrive, I believe East Africa has a very vibrant soul. We have an identity, a Common past, a shared present, and a common future. The EAC is a Common project: It will take all of us to develop it, strengthen it, and make it work for all of us.

I am bullish about East Africa: And I have reason to be. Of the 6 fastest growing economies in Sub Saharan Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Mozambique, three are members of our Community. This pattern is replicated even when you consider sector specific growth. Let me pick just a few. Two of the four fastest growers in the Financial Services Sector namely Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Ghana, are East African. Of the three fastest growing Hospitality Sector Countries, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Kenya, two are members of the Community. Rwanda is the fastest doing business reformer in Africa, and is among the top five globally two years running. Of the three Sub Saharan Countries with the highest infrastructure outlays, Uganda, Kenya and Ghana, two are in East Africa.

The examples are many. But the Community is not only about Economic integration. The issues in social security, solidarity and development are mainstreamed within the broader programmes of the EAC across the sectors in, among others, the programmes of health cooperation, gender and community development; education, science and technology, culture and sports development; and environmental and natural resources management.

Together with the focus on social development, efforts are intensified under co-operation in political affairs. Important instruments relating to the development of improved and harmonized governance structures and systems encompassing a wide array of constitutional issues have been developed. These include the issues of rule of law, human rights, anti-corruption, transparency, accountability, election observation and monitoring, and protection of human rights, foreign policy co-ordination, defense and regional peace and security matters.

As the process towards political federation is sustained, EAC’s abiding concern remains to align national political activities and trends with regional integration objectives towards deeper integration and rapid socio-economic transformation. The realization of a large regional economic bloc comprising Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi bears great strategic and geopolitical significance, imposing on the EAC Partner States enormous responsibility for regional defense and security.

To this extent, a Protocol governing co-operation in defense and security matters is at advanced stage of consideration, setting the stage for deepening and widening co-operation in regional peace and security.

EAC has in the past successfully pursued strategic mission to establish wider areas of peace and security beyond the confines of its borders. This has included our involvement in the Burundi and IGAD peace processes, and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Process, which culminated in the signing in 2006 of the Pact of Security, Stability and Development of the Great Lakes Region.

Co-operation among the EAC Defense Forces is currently engaged in the issues of insecurity posed by the situation of Somalia; Piracy in the Indian Ocean waters off the East African coast; and proliferation of small arms and light weapons filtering from the states of insecurity in the countries surrounding the EAC region.

Amb. Dr. Richard Sezibera
Secretary General, EAC.

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