EAC speakers clash over pact
Speakers of the East African Community (EAC) on Monday clashed on the fast tracking of the integration process.
This was during a meeting of regional parliamentary speakers held at Rwanda’s Parliamentary Buildings in Kigali.
As the integration of the Community reaches advanced stages, some political analysts have predicted that fears of the unknown could ruin the process if not addressed in time.
For instance, there are two divergent views on the proposed political federation. One school of thought favours the progressive integration process while the other argues political federation should be fast tracked. Speaking at the meeting, Speaker of Tanzania’s Parliament, Anne Makinda reiterated her country’s stance against fast integration, saying Tanzania’s internal situation is not secure enough to be fully engaged in integration within the EAC.
Tanzania, she said, is a big country with broad borders and, given its big population of more than 45 million people, integration into EAC is still a farfetched dream.
“We are actually not reluctant. We are just not ready and need some more time. There is need to first talk to our people and be careful to educate them properly so that when we take up the initiative; there is nothing to worry about,” Makinda said.
However, Rwanda’s Senate President, Dr Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo said Members of Parliament should try within their mandate to accelerate the integration process.
He said as much as integration is a gradual process, it is equally important to set and beat deadlines if East Africans are to benefit from the integration.
“We need to achieve what we have agreed and if we do not speed up the process, it would lose meaning and one would wonder why we started the initiative in the first place,” Ntawukuriryayo said.
Makinda pointed out that the idea of integration is good but it is equally important to start on a solid foundation.
“We have a major challenge of first letting the people of Tanzania understand the initiatives we are taking for their own interest, otherwise it will not be sustained because we may make decisions at the headquarters and people will riot back at home,” she stressed.
Makinda said to avoid having a wavering community in her country, Tanzania aims at first issuing national identity cards for its nationals before embracing other general integration policies.
She disclosed that it could take about two years to have them available.
The officials also mentioned that there is a problem of people who enter Tanzania without identification documents to destabilise the country, thus the necessity to first put in place national IDs before taking further steps.
Dr Ntawukuriryayo disclosed that discussions were underway in Rwandan parliament to see how the country can play a pivotal role in ensuring that the set targets are achieved.
On the other hand, Kenya is convinced that the progress made so far is reasonable and there is no cause for parochial fears because the issue of being distinct from each other has no place in the future.
“Tanzania is a signatory to the EAC Treaty and it shows that they are willing to comply with all regulations but if they have difficulties, it is unfortunate and we need to help them,” Kenya’s Speaker, Kenneth Marende, observed.
He acknowledged people need to agree on how to co-exist as they move to actualise full integration. “EAC has equal partners with equal rights. It does not matter what the size or the population of your country is. We should accommodate and engage each other,” he said.
Uganda’s Speaker Rebecca Kadaga said because member countries have different political timetables, there is a constant state of flux and it will take some time to stabilise.
On the elections to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), Kadaga said three countries have not yet voted but “we are still within the schedule and all speakers are committed to hold the elections before the end of term of office (of current bearers) in June.”Rwanda’s Speaker Rose Mukantabana observed that a roadmap of the integration process is in place to help reach the ultimate phase of having a political federation.
She stressed that Parliament, being the legislative arm of the community, has to play a pivotal role.On his part, EALA Speaker Abdirahin Abdi said claiming that a single country has hampered the integration process is not fair, noting that none of the partner states has fully implemented the common market protocol, in addition to fully harmonising other laws.
“Yes, it is not as fast as we want it but we should broadly look at all the issues surrounding the integration before we start pointing fingers at individual states,” he said.The road map of the EAC foresees the gradual progress from a Customs Union towards a Common Market and Monetary Union, finally culminating in a Political Federation.
Partner states had initially anticipated achieving a political federation this year and electing one president by next year.
This would entail having a federal government, parliament and president. However, attempts to fast track political federation, which is the fourth and last stage in the integration process, has raised questions about the commitment of the member states.
But with a population of over 133 million people, proponents of the integration process see the potential of EA becoming a bigger entity with more opportunity openings, especially for the young people.
The Treaty for the establishment of the East African Community was signed in November 1999 and came into force in July 2000. In June 2007, Burundi and Rwanda signed Treaties of Accession to the EAC.
Contact email: sam.nkurunziza[at]newtimes.co.rw