By Vision Reporter
THE five leaders of the East African Community (EAC) have signed a landmark agreement for a common market which allows free movement of people, goods, labour and capital across the member countries.
The ceremony, that took place in Arusha, Tanzania, coincided with the 10th anniversary of the Community. It was attended by presidents Yoweri Museveni, Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi.
The common market agreement comes into effect on July 1, 2010 after ratification by the member countries.
The next stage will then be to adopt one currency and later a political federation or one East African president.
Under the common market, East African citizens can enter another country without a visa. Limitations can be imposed by individual countries on grounds of public policy, security and health.
The protocol also allows for the right of residence, free movement of service and capital, and protection of cross-border investments.
The presidents signed the protocol during a colourful ceremony at Arusha International Conference Centre. Initially, the signing was to take place at the Sheik Amri Abeid Memorial stadium in full view of the public.
â€œThe tradition is that all the protocols establishing the East African Community institutions are signed in public in order to be witnessed by the people,â€ Kikwete had explained.
However a heavy downpour marred the programme, prompting a change of venue. The common market is the second stage in the EAC integration process and comes 5 years after the launch of the customs union.
The five presidents also laid the foundation stone for the headquarters of the EAC, a project co-funded by Germany.
In his address, President Yoweri Museveni called for investment in oil exploration and assured East Africans that the recently discovered petroleum in Uganda will benefit the entire region.
A jovial Museveni said the oil exploration companies were initially opposed to the idea of building a refinery and, instead, wanted to build a pipeline to export the crude oil. â€œThen I made a trip to Iran, which is not a popular country in some parts of the world. Through the president, I learnt that they have nine refineries and are building another seven.â€
He said the discovery of petroleum deposits in Uganda is a signal that there may be oil in other parts of the western rift valley, which is shared by Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. He stressed that agriculture should not be neglected because petroleum is a finite resource that will get exhausted one day. The money accrued from oil should be used to build infrastructure for transport, energy, and science, he noted.
Rwandan President Kagame, who handed over the chairmanship to Kikwete, said signing the protocol signaled the â€œpassing of a region of states competing with each other, and welcoming a region with common interests and aspirations.â€ The establishment of the customs union has enhanced trade among the member states, he noted adding that the fear of loss of revenue of some countries has been removed.
During the ceremony, certificates were awarded to individuals who contributed to the Communityâ€™s success. Edith Mwanje, the PS of the Ministry of East African Affairs, Moses Kaggwa, the chief negotiator for Uganda, and Ambassador Onen received certificates.
Ochen of St Maryâ€™s Kisubi was the second runner-up in the studentsâ€™ essay contest. He got a certificate and $1,200.
Under the common market protocol, the countries agreed to eliminate all barriers to trade, harmonise standards of goods and implement a common trade policy. They also agreed on freedom of movement of labour, provide for social security benefits and establish common standards for workersâ€™ and employersâ€™ associations. Except for Tanzania, the rest agreed to use national identity cards as travel documents.