The East African Community (EAC) is an intergovernmental organisation that was originally founded in 1967, but collapsed in 1977, causing celebrations and wine-toasting in Kenya.
It was officially revived on July 7, 2000 with Rwanda and Burundi joining July 1, 2007, expanding the regional economic bloc to five nations.
The region covers an area of 1.8 million square kilometers with a combined population of about 100 million (July 2005 est.) and has significant natural resources.
Kenya and Tanzania have had relatively peaceful histories since achieving independence, in contrast to the wars and civil strife that occurred in Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda.
Today East Africa seeks to maintain stability and prosperity in the midst of ongoing conflicts in the D.R. Congo, the Horn of Africa, and southern Sudan. The two most prevalent languages of East Africa are Swahili and English.
This organisation has drawn up plans to form an East African Federation with softened travel restrictions, harmonising tariffs, a common market, improving communications, sharing electrical power and abolishing most tariffs to attain economic and political integration.
There are also plans for increasing co-operation among security forces, and a political union, the East African Federation, with a common President (initially on a rotation basis) and a common parliament by 2010.
However, some experts like those based at the public think tank Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), have noted that some plans are too ambitious to be met by 2010 because a number of political, social and economic challenges are yet to be addressed.
Rwanda as a country rebuilding its economy shattered after the 1994 Genocide and with a Vision 2020 tabled will have a lot to anticipate from this union. But what is its position compared to other members?
To harmonise tariffs, each member will be allowed to extract a maximum 10 per cent surcharge on some products in order to protect indigenous industries.
This will be achieved through the establishment of a customs union at the entry point of the community, a common market, then a monetary union and ultimately a political federation of the East African states.
However, Rwanda’s industrial sector is to face competition from other member countries who have well established industrial sectors, especially the founder members.
Flow of goods into Rwanda at cheaper prices will affect the indigenous goods which are made from imported raw materials. But there are comparative advantages in minerals like coltan, which is used in manufacturing of electric and communication devices.
With the lack of capital markets in Rwanda, the monetary and financial markets are dominated by nine banks and six insurance companies.
The state continues to be a major shareholder but these might be altered to reap the advantages of capital markets enjoyed in other member countries.
Sharing electrical power would be vital especially for countries with growing economies like Rwanda, who have looked at ways to extract methane from Lake Kivu to help with energy needs.
The methane gas in Lake Kivu amounts to 55 billion cubic meters, just about enough to sort out Rwanda’s energy problems for more than 1,000 years. Other members could feast on these gases though at a cost, which will be to Rwanda’s advantage.
Establishment of an internationally competitive single (common) market and investment area in East Africa is accorded priority, alongside the development of a regional infrastructure with human resources, sciences and technologies.
Rwanda lacks the industrial capacity to match those in Kenya and Uganda to enjoy the benefits of the common market, but will directly benefit from them through provision of skilled manpower since their labour demand is high.
Uganda and Kenya, who possess higher education standards, will provide graduates for recruitment, from which Rwanda will greatly benefit.
Rwanda depends much on expatriates which could be good but in the long run cannot help the economy. Rwandans might also be outmatched in the labour market due to varying education standards.
But for science and technology, advantages seem to favour Rwanda, since the regional ICT hub is having a stronger hand.
The recently ended ICT summit indicated that there is a lot of hope for the country. If all is implemented as stipulated, Rwanda will possess a bigger advantage.
Counterterrorism and military participation in disaster response are paramount for peace and security related activities.
These include drafting modalities for a common refugee registration mechanism and a Defence Experts’ Working Group on Operations, training and discussing of joint peacekeeping issues.
Rwanda is to pose a challenge to other members because it is transparent in issues concerning the military. Uganda’s manufacturing of ammunition could also aid and strengthen Rwanda’s military status as well, providing increased protection against the rebels from Congo.
Joining the EAC is of great advantage to the drive towards Vision 2020. We will have a lot to gain as we strive to achieve Vision 2020.