We cannot afford to be left behind, Kagame

President Paul Kagame amidst regional officials after opening the strategic retreat of the Council of Ministers and Heads of Organs and Institutions of EAC in Kigali yesterday. The President is pushing for urgent fixing of the bloc's challenges. Village Urugwiro.

There is urgent need to put the East African Community in order in terms of ownership, transparency and accountability in management, President Paul Kagame has said.

Kagame was speaking at the opening of a retreat of the Council of Ministers and Heads of Organs and Institutions of EAC in Kigali yesterday.

President Kagame, who is the Chairperson of the EAC; “We urgently need to get our house in order, both in terms of ownership, which includes paying our respective dues, as well as enhancing transparency and accountability in the management of the institution.”

“This is the only way to maintain integrity internally, as well as credibility with our citizens and our partner institutions.” 

Officials brainstorm at a strategic retreat of the Council of Ministers and Heads of Organs and Institutions of EAC in Kigali. Village Urugwiro.

The issue of ownership, especially in regard to ensuring that each country pays its financial contribution is critical as some of the bloc’s initiatives have not been rolled out owing to funding shortfall.

As of January this year, only 45 per cent of annual contributions had been made.

The Head of State said that without putting the bloc’s affairs in order, it would be very difficult to achieve even simple goals set.

“We have to urgently unblock obstacles in ongoing projects, and allow ourselves to finish the good work we have started together. Many of these require little more than political will. Even small triumphs generate so much goodwill, and increase the trust of our people in the East Africa Community. So why deprive ourselves of success that we need, and that is within our reach?” he posed.

The Single Customs Territory and EAC Common Higher Education are examples of interventions that directly benefit all our people, and create popular momentum for deeper phases of integration, he added.

Kagame made a strong case for ensuring the bloc gets the basics issues right before pursuing bigger ambitions.

“Finally, there is nothing wrong with being ambitious. There is so much more to do, but we cannot start to tackle the bigger, more complex processes when we are still struggling with basic issues,” he said.

With the African Continental Free Trade Are, taking shape and expected to take effect in coming months, the President said that the arrangement will present unprecedented opportunities for EAC citizens, and hence the need to improve the state of affairs.

“We know our region and what needs to be done to be part of this forward movement. So we cannot afford to be left behind, or be the ones to delay the rest of Africa. In fact, the East African Community has what it takes to actually lead this process,” he said.

Among the ways to fast track progress in the region and become more people centred, Kagame said is by listening to citizens and business community to determine their expectations and ways to work closely with them.

“We have to facilitate this by listening to what the business community and ordinary citizens are telling us, and find a way to meet their expectations. Only by working together will we spur innovation, create employment and generate the wealth needed to transform our East Africa,” he said.

The meeting was attended by representatives from four member States—Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Burundi and South Sudan were not represented. 

East African Community Secretary General, Libérat Mfumukeko, said that though there was much progress over the last two decades, there were long persistent challenges that can be addressed through consultations at the retreat.