ARUSHA - President Paul Kagame yesterday handed over the chairmanship of the East Africa Community (EAC) to his Tanzanian counterpart, Jakaya Kikwete, and described the regional bloc as “much stronger, larger and more united.”
The ceremony, which took place in Arusha, Tanzania, also saw the five EAC Heads of State sign the Common Market Protocol.
The President hailed his fellow Heads of State, the leaders of EAC organs, and all the people for the support they accorded Rwanda as it carried out its duties as of chair the EAC.
He told a huge audience at the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC) that what stood out as the most important engagement during his term of office as EAC chairperson was the high level negotiations on the draft protocol for the establishment of the common market.
He said that the signing of the protocol marked the passing of a region of individual states competing with each other and welcoming a new East Africa of common interest and aspirations.
“The responsibility rests on us as partner states to ensure that this protocol is ratified as early as possible to enable the Common Market to come into force from the first of July 2010 as planned,” he said.
With the signing of the protocol and its eventual ratification, professionals, services and capital owners will now be able to move freely in the five partner states of the bloc.
The President added that the level of preparations towards a fully fledged Customs Union had advanced considerably, emphasizing that it is important that national policies are aligned in order to make the union a meaningful success.
“We face a number of challenges, in this respect, not least revenue loss. Our short-term concern is how to mitigate this loss through financial compensatory mechanisms,” the President noted.
“We need, therefore, to continue working hard to implement the agreed practical measures required to achieve a fully fledged Customs Union in the timeframe we have set for ourselves,” he added.
On defence and cooperation, Kagame said that there has been collaboration aimed at deepening defence cooperation, and hinted at the joint military exercises that were conducted among regional armies.
“When the people of East Africa see our armed forces cooperating closely on the ground, the benefit of this community for their fundamental needs, such as security, becomes very real,” he said.
In his acceptance speech, Kikwete, the incoming Chairperson of the EAC Heads of State summit commended President Kagame for his exemplary leadership, stating that the EAC has become much stronger since Rwanda took over its chairmanship and promised to emulate his predecessor’s example.
The EAC Heads of State later laid the foundation stone and planted commemoration trees at the 9.85 hectare site where the EAC headquarters will be built.
After a heavy downpour, the Presidents proceeded to Arusha’s Shekh Abedi Karume Stadium for celebrations to mark the 10th Anniversary of the signing of the EAC Treaty.