By David Mugabe
The East African Community (EAC) has drafted a policy it will use, if approved, to roll out the last stage of the integration process, senior officials have said.
According to the integration timeline, the region should be fully federated by 2015, although the signing of the monetary union, which is the second-last stage, has delayed by one year.
But the region now is on the verge of full integration should the monetary union protocol get signed by the five EAC presidents next month as expected.
Dr. Richard Sezibera, the EAC secretary general, says consultations on the political federation blue print will be complete by the end of October.
“It will be on the agenda of the Council of Ministers in November,” said Sezibera, adding that it should then be taken to the heads of state summit later in the year.
Overall, analysts have given thumbs up for EAC’s integration, describing it as a model. The region is also sitting on one of the biggest deposits of resources that, if well utilised, could completely transform the welfare of the citizenry.
The EAC integration process is unique globally because it is pushing for a political federation.
This means the five member bloc could have its own president, cabinet and parliamentary system (the East African Legislative Assembly already exists) if the federation is achieved.
To this end, Lena Thiede, a counsellor at the Kenyan German embassy, thinks access to information should be boosted because it is a crucial tenet to democracy.
Germany, through GIZ, is funding several activities of the integration.
An East African Business Council Position paper indicates varying opinions about the journey so far, especially in the achievement of the first two protocols and their impact on the impending monetary union.
A majority of them (97.8%) suggested that partner states should abandon their existing currencies for a new common currency.
They recommended that the regional monetary unit be made a parallel currency in the region based on a weighted average of EAC currencies and allow it to circulate alongside existing partner states currencies.
But 67% of EAC businesses are doubtful if the monetary union will work because eight years since the commencement of the customs union and three years of the monetary union, the two key protocols are yet to be fully implemented.
With a GDP at about $90b, the integration process is expected to usher in more opportunities for businesses and the citizenry.
Joint efforts aimed at tackling challenges like the collective effort in addressing infrastructure will make the region more competitive.
The region grew by 3.7% from 2010 to 2012, more than in the global or sub-Saharan average.
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) grew from $2.6b in 2010 to $3.8b in 2012. Intra-regional trade rose from $500,000 to $2.3b, almost four times growth, despite the negative perception about Africa generally, according to Jesca Eriyo, the EAC deputy secretary general. “We need to focus more on our positives rather than negatives,” said Eriyo.
Civil society is also pushing for the optimisation of the young population that will be productive in the near future to strengthen social cohesion and make a foundation basis for home grown solutions.
The most poignant development this year has been the pronouncements by the heads of state of Uganda Kenya and Rwanda, who have vowed to fix the road and railway line running across the three states during some tripartite meetings in Uganda and Kenya. This has not gone unnoticed by the donor community who are partly funding infrastructure development.
“We have made more progress in the last six months than in the last two years. Strong practical drive by the presidents is the way forward,” said a representative of TradeMark – the agency that is also helping with the building of revenue border post stations.
Mathew Bizimana, the president of the Federation of East African Freight Forwarders Association, says even the 1.4% Kenya railway development levy should not be considered a new barrier unless the money generated is misused.
“Five years from now, they will be thinking about developing the railway and the cost will be higher,” said Bizimana.
However, some non-tariff barriers still exist, including arbitrary impositions such as cash bond requirements by the Kenya Revenue Authority prior to clearance of goods. The other is the requirement by the KRA that tea from Uganda destined for Mombasa auction market should be stored at customs bonded warehouses in Mombasa.
There are discussions on these matters that analysts are hopeful will be concluded, allowing for the region to forge forward.