Despite slowdown in frequency of Summit level meetings of the Northern Corridor Integration Projects (NCIP), the initiative is well and alive, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Louise Mushikiwabo, has said.
The initiative was borne when Presidents Paul Kagame, Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), and Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya) first met in Uganda on June 25, 2013, to discuss how to co-operate and speed up development in the region.
At the onset, Heads of State Summits would be held quarterly. The last summit was held in April 2016 in Kampala, Uganda.
Addressing a news conference at the ministry headquarters in Kigali yesterday, Mushikiwabo said: “I think that what has happened since last year is that there has been a lot of political activity in the region and that has not allowed us, as a bloc, to hold our regular meetings as we had done since the beginning of the initiative.”
Mushikiwabo further explained that due to what has been happening, there has just been a “slowdown” of NICP activities but “the spirit of the Northern Corridor initiative is well and alive.”
The political activities she cited include elections in Uganda, and the crises in Burundi and in South Sudan.
General elections were held in Uganda in February 2016.
Highlighting how NICP remains active, the minister pointed to the fact that, just recently, Rwanda followed in the footpath of Uganda and Kenya by commissioning the electronic cargo tracking system.
She described this as a “very important milestone” that is a very critical part of “our collaboration as a corridor in terms of moving goods as quickly as possible and without spending so much money.”
The e-Cargo tracking system is meant to reduce the cost of doing business by reducing transit time, enhancing cargo safety and helping traders in the countries where it is used to better predict arrival of goods, among others.
Mushikiwabo said that although the leaders have not met for nearly a year, in several specific sectors such as environment, infrastructure and others, ministerial meetings have taken place and summit directives attended to.
The 13th NCIP Summit, held in Kampala, Uganda, welcomed the progress made in the implementation of various projects and reiterated the leaders’ resolve to continue fast-tracking the NCIP in order to accelerate regional integration and improve the livelihood of citizens.
The last summit’s recommendations included one on matters of defence, peace and security cooperation, where the Heads of State directed ministers of foreign affairs, defence, and security to finalise Accession Treaties to the mutual defence pact as well as the mutual peace and security pact, among others.
The ministers were also to consider the mechanism for a comprehensive conflict and dispute resolution.
Mushikiwabo said: “The cluster of defence and security of which I am a member has done its work. We were asked to look at conditions of accession, into the aspects of preserving security, which transcends long-term stability of all the the bloc or initiative and we are simply waiting for the summit of our heads of state, to submit.”
There are 16 projects being coordinated under NCIP, with each of the three founder countries initially allocated a set of projects to coordinate.
Projects coordinated by Rwanda are: immigration, tourism, trade, labour and services; the single customs territory; defence cooperation; peace and security cooperation; and air space management.
Recently, South Sudan graduated from observer status to an active member of the initiative.