Yesterday August 20, Rwanda attended its first East African Community (EAC) summit as a full member. The one-day summit, dubbed the 6th Extraordinary Heads of State meeting, took place in Arusha, Tanzania.
Some of the highlights of the discussions were the agreements to move quickly to form a Common Market by 2021; find out whether it is possible to partner with the European Union by having an Economic Partnership Agreement; and the order to the Secretariat to explore ways of presenting a proposition for an East African Industrial and Investment Strategy for equitable distribution of industries in the East African member states.
All these economic-leaning proposals are, once effected and running, expected to lead to the eventual formation of a political federation.
It can be seen clearly that a lot of time and careful thought has been injected into the process of making the East African region benefit economically in the larger bloc of a regional body. It is also true, as was shown by the discussions and comments from Rwandan government officials, that the eyes are riveted on the economic benefits first, then the political unity.
Even as every member state aligns to reap big from the community, there is a lot of groundwork to be covered in terms of sensitizing the population about not only the benefits of economic federation, but political as well. The new members Rwanda and Burundi have been advised to carry out sensitisation of their people about this, and Rwanda is beginning this year.
It is important that people participate in making a decision, and it is good that the government recognizes this and has factored it in its campaigns. Decisions will be quickly made, however, when some economic gains have been put on the table. These are the ones that will drive positive support for more integration programmes, and therefore all efforts should be made to start making the economic unity work for Rwandans in a more physical sense, as in easier movements of body and goods – like regulating non-tariff barriers for all the community, which will translate directly into cheaper commodities for Rwandans.
If there is any fast-tracking to be done therefore, let it be economic first, which will ultimately lead us to the biggest prize – political federation.