“Integration cannot be taken for granted. Its success needs constant nurturing and it needs constant championing from all the players in this process” - Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, also current Chairman of the EAC.
A flash back, to the 18th of June 2007, Rwanda and Burundi joined the East African Community (EAC). The inclusion of the two countries which are geographically, culturally and economically connected to the east African region was an important milestone to furthering the objectives of the regional body.
All this is being done in a fast moving regional and global context with political dynamics that have a potential of making or breaking the integration process.
With a steady and combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of more than 41 billion US dollars, the EAC’s potential of being a formidable regional economic and political power is clear.
This follows the region’s notable progress in the ongoing national consultative process on fast tracking the East African Federation.
This process currently on track will allow the people of East Africa to have the final say in making the decision towards a political union.
However, unifying the five states would be a quandary without the development and establishment of the EAC integration process.
Integration, basically to establish and quicken the community’s development strategy as a way of consolidating the gains made as a region.
The integration process is cut into four stages namely; Customs union, Common market, Monetary Union and the Political Federation.
In order to break barriers in trade within the region, a unified customs union was of necessity. With open borders being a big success and at the moment all borders are working 24 hours 7 days a week. Furthermore, internal trade tariffs were lifted so as to ease trade flow.
Furthermore, with the re-emergence of the powerful East African economic and trading block, strengthening regional solidarity in trade with a common market by 2010 will ultimately place the region on a banner.
This will free movement of goods, labour and capital.
Also another well planned facet of a monetary union- single taxation federation of the East African member states, by 2015 is in process.
On the other hand, in order to achieve a political federation, The Committee on Fast Tracking East African Federation, was established.
This was to expedite the process of integration so that the ultimate goal of a Political Federation is achieved through a fast track mechanism.
In Rwanda, whose president Paul Kagame is the Chairman of the EAC, swift progress is what counts. To further the integration process in the country, the Government of Rwanda in June last year, established The National Integration Committee, chaired by Ambassador Richard Sezibera.
The committee’s purpose is mainly to advise Rwanda on her regional integration options, co-ordinating regional integration programmes and developing negotiation strategies.
It was also set up to help think through the rationalisation of regional bodies to which Rwanda belongs.
Regional integration being part of the six pillars of the country’s Vision 2020, it was pertinent that the government set up the committee.
This is on the basis that Rwanda’s economic growth is partly dependent upon having integrated with economies in the East African region.
Numerous are the benefits that Rwanda can achieve from the integration. Putting into account the fact that the country is landlocked, her gateway being Mombasa and
Dar-es-Salaam, joining the EAC prepared a wider market for Rwanda.
Though Rwanda is landlocked, it can actually become land-linked as it is at the crossroads between the East African region and the West African region.
In other words, Rwanda can serve as a distribution point for areas in eastern Congo, southern Uganda and eastern Tanzania.
In light of these great achievements controversy is bubbling up concerning France’s eagerness to amend her rotten past with Rwanda.
On October 10th, France set in with a pledge to support the EAC’s integration process. This announcement was made by Jacques Champagne de Labriolle- the French Ambassador to Tanzania.
This was during a meeting at the East African Community Secretariat. Amb. De Labriolle, whose country is the current European Union (EU) chair, expressed a desire to help the regional bloc tap into the EU’s experience to integrate within its operations in Burundi and Rwanda, the latest Partner States to join the Community.
One could think that France is desperately trying to get back her hook of control into these two states, Rwanda especially, which in August released the lethal Mucyo Commission Report implicating France in the 1994 genocide- - a report that has raised questions over France’s moral standing in world affairs.
“Rwanda and Burundi provide a favourable interface between West and Central Africa with East Africa not only in geographical terms but also between Francophone and Anglophone,” Amb. De Labriolle said.
He expressed France’s particular interest in helping Burundi fit into the Community seamlessly; taking into account challenges she faces as a solely French-speaking country.
“The EAC is best placed to assist Burundi to regain its former glory following several years of instability and in this regard the French Government is willing to partner closely with the EAC Secretariat,” the Ambassador noted.
The Ambassador also expressed a desire to strengthen further bilateral relations between France and the EAC. At the same meeting, De Labriolle announced a 24,000-Euro grant to support the work of the Lake Victoria Sustainable Development Programme during the year 2009 and indicated that an additional grant of 100,000 Euros would be availed to the Community in the overall context of the EAC Partnership Fund.
However, the same week on October 1-3 during the 4th Annual Inter-Parliamentary Relations Seminar in Kigali, Rwanda, the region’s parliamentarians called for their governments to scrap the interim Economic Partnership Agreement-EPA with the European Union-EU.
This was in favour of the EAC developing “a strategic development co-operation strategy” with other African regional economic communities like ECOWAS (The Economic Communities of West African States), and also with the emerging global economies of China, India and Brazil.
This acuity is a result of the EAC states feeling cheated and maneuvered into signing an interim Economic Partnership Agreements framework with the EU in November last year following the expiry last December of the Cotonou pact governing trade between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.
Dr Francis Mangeni, a consultant on African trade and international trade policy, said that EPA’s are part of the EU global strategy that is not sensitive to the need to balance the interests of weak partners with Europe’s immediate and long-term interests.
According to Dr Mangeni, as the EAC countries were engaged with the EU on the EPA negotiations and initialling a Framework EPA Agreement, they didn’t remember that EU had a global market access strategy and the EAC countries had neither a strategy for Europe nor, for that matter, a market access strategy for any other part of the world.
Addressing the Kigali seminar, Dr Mangeni said, “Under the ongoing negotiation of EPAs, the EU negotiators remained tough and stubborn, almost replicas of the colonial viceroy.”
“The EU is trying again to mould the developing world in its own image, and to negotiate itself into a permanent preferential place that assures its continued influence in order to secure an edge over competitors for resources, services and goods,” Dr Mangeni said.
The parliamentarians resolved that the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) and the national parliaments engage EPA negotiators- ministers and technocrats, to register their concerns before the final signing of the Comprehensive EPA Agreement.
According to the parliamentarians, the “rapid developments” in East Africa calls for more South-South cooperation, which they consider to be more advantageous than that with the conniving West.
This leaves one thing clear, that the bureaucrats of the West, France being the ringleader, have stolen the show, sidelined everybody and are negotiating the EPA’s without involvement or guidance of the parliaments with regard to the negotiation positions.