President Yoweri Museveni calls for a more integrated African market if the continent is to play a bigger role in world trade.
By Samuel Sanya & David Mugabe
President Yoweri Museveni has called for a more integrated African market if the continent is to play a bigger role in world trade.
He urged Ugandans to utilise the vast opportunities for trade and free movement of labour in the East African Community (EAC). He said the dismal involvement of Africa in global trade has been occasioned by small fragmented markets.
Museveni, said there needs to be more involvement of citizenry and business in integration.
“Citizens have not fully appreciated the importance of the large market, despite businesses having made some inroads,” Museveni said in a speech read by Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere, the minister of general duties, during the Karibu East Africa Community climax.
Kabwegyere flagged off a symbolic caravan that will travel to Iganga, Busia and Moroto at the Serena Hotel in Kampala.
The caravan is part of efforts to sensitize the public on the benefits of the EAC regional integration.
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), intra-Africa trade was only 11% compared to 21% in Latin America and 50% in Asia. While intra-EAC trade has been rising, it is still comparatively low.
Data from the EAC secretariat shows that intra-EAC trade grew to $5.5b in 2012, up from $4.5b recorded in 2011.
Data from the EAC secretariat further shows that Uganda’s exports to EAC partner states rose by 10.8% to $525m in 2013 from $474m the year before.
“We need to create a new mindset to show that we now have a new benefit, so we stop being petty and become big,” noted Kabwegyere.
EAC minister Shem Bageine, estimates that the level of EAC integration awareness and opportunities in Uganda is at 50%, while Uganda has already integrated with the rest of EAC to about 60%.
Kabwegyere thanked Museveni for being at the forefront of driving the integration process. He also pointed out that the current generation of EAC leaders had all lived across the region during different times, thus the agenda of integration began a long time ago. However, challenges persist despite the inroads made.
The most recent is the emergence of the sugar disputes between Kenya and Uganda, that portrayed the raw emotions of nationalistic feelings across the region.
Museveni said the fact that Uganda had to go through negotiations with Kenya to allow its sugar highlights the challenges of integration that still exist.
“Make clear efforts to avoid the mistakes that were made in the past, it would be a tragedy if our politics is allowed to interfere with our integration,” Kabwegyere said.
The EAC secretary general, Dr. Richard Sezibera, described the sugar crisis as the worst debacle since integration began. Bageine said the process of drafting an EAC federal constitution has kicked off; he, however, noted that the shape of the federation is yet to be agreed on.
“The council of EAC ministers will consider the political federation objective at the EAC summit in November.
“The idea of fast tracking the federation started in 2004 and it is not going to drag on anymore. Research has been done to establish people’s fears and expectations,” Bageine said.
Allen Asiimwe, the country director of TradeMark East Africa, a donor funded non-profit agency that aims at growing prosperity in East Africa through trade, noted that more needs to be done to sensitise Ugandans on the benefits of integration.
She highlighted initiatives like the telecom One Area Network, 24-hour cargo clearance at borders, harmonisation of work permit fees, and the ability of cross border travel using national identity cards.
Edith Mwanje, the permanent secretary at the ministry of East African Community Affairs said regional integration, provides opportunities to Ugandans to take up employment in the partner states, open up businesses and take up residence.
“This will help solve the issue of unemployment and congestion in the country. Also, citizens from our partner states will be able to take advantage of the opportunities that Uganda presents that have not been fully utilised by its citizens,” she said.
Museveni urges Ugandans on EAC potential