President Museveni has fast distinguished himself as the champion of the Africa’s integration agenda, noting that only therein lies the opportunity for prosperity and strategic security of the African people.
By Awel Uwihanganye
Recently, President Museveni concluded an eventful week-long foreign trip that took him to South Africa and Kenya.
In South Africa, the President addressed the Saharawi Solidarity Conference organised by the Southern African Development Community.
Alongside South Africa, Nigeria and Algeria, Uganda has been amongst the few African countries that have remained steadfast in defending the Saharawi People's right to self-determination, in line with a 1975 ruling by the International Court of Justice and the African Union's principle of total decolonisation of the continent.
But it is his 3-day state visit to Kenya later, which will be the subject of this article. Received and feted by his host President, Uhuru Kenyatta, the President addressed the Kenya-Uganda Business Forum, signed a host of bilateral agreements with his counterpart, took a guided tour of Mombasa port - the main sea conduit for Uganda's trade and took a four-hour train journey - the first head of state to do so, on Kenya's new Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) to Nairobi, where he concluded his visit the next day with a public lecture on integration at Kenyatta University.
President Museveni has fast distinguished himself as the champion of Africa's integration agenda, noting that only therein lies the opportunity for prosperity and strategic security of the African people.
The speech at Kenyatta University followed a similar one at the Africa Now Summit hosted in Kampala early last month and an even grander one delivered at the 32nd ordinary summit of the African Union Heads of State Meeting in Addis-Ababa in February this year, all of which have been hailed for their historical grounding, breadth of perspective, depth of analysis and strategic foresight.
And the President has not just talked about integration. In 1999, he together with former Presidents Moi and Mkapa led the revival of the East African Community, which has been hailed as the most progressive integration effort since the European Union.
Uganda also led on the formation of the Tripartite Free Trade Area in 2015, an agreement bringing 26 countries within the EAC, SADC COMESA into a single free trade area and soon followed through with ratification, being among the first two countries to do so, alongside Egypt.
Last year, when 44 countries gathered in Kigali to form a Continental Free Trade Area, Uganda was not just among the first countries to sign the treaty, it was also among the first 10 countries to ratify it.
Because of his single-minded dedication, after handing over the chairmanship of the EAC this year, the President was tasked by his colleague Heads of State to supervise the process towards the formation of an EAC political confederation, the last stage towards the formation of a political federation.
The more East Africa has integrated economically, the more Uganda's economy has thrived, vindicating his argument in the importance of a bigger market. For example, last year, Uganda registered the highest trade surplus in the region worth $413.86m - including a trade surplus with Kenya for the first time in history, worth $122.78m.
Today, three of the top five destinations for Uganda's exports are also in the EAC, with the United Arab Emirates and the Democratic Republic of Congo being the other two.
Most of these gains have been enabled by the implementation of Customs Union and Common Market protocols under the EAC, which have enabled seamless movement of people and goods between the member states.
For example, with the implementation of One Stop Border Posts at cross-border points, goods from Mombasa can now reach Kampala in three days, from the original 18 days. With the completion of the SGR, these are further expected to be reduced to two.
Of course, integration has not come without hurdles. Often times, where tariff barriers have been removed, individual countries have tended to erect non-tariff barriers, limiting the flourishing of cross-border trade.
It is the latter barriers that were the subject of the President's State Visit to Kenya.
In 2017, Kenya slapped a ban on poultry products from Uganda, after Uganda was hit by a bird flu virus.
But despite getting a clearance certificate from the World Organisation for Animal Health last year, the ban stayed in place until last week, when President Kenyatta agreed to the lifting of the ban in his bilateral discussions with President Museveni.
In other gains, it was agreed that sugar imports from Uganda previously capped at 36,000 metric tonnes annually will now be tripled to over 90,000 metric tons. Going forward, Uganda's dairy exports will also be able to access the Kenyan Market with less red-tape, after a clearance requirement by Kenya's Principal Secretary for Livestock was waived.
And in two weeks time, Kenya's National Bureau of Standards will conduct a verification exercise on Uganda's tiles for possible importation, providing much-needed market for Uganda's newly commissioned Ceramics factory in Kapeeka.
It is such gains for the Ugandan people and economy that make integration meaningful and the President's single-minded pursuit of the same, a mark of strategic leadership and foresight.
The writer is the Head of the Government - Citizen Interaction Centre.