Around this time 32 years ago, the East African Community (EAC) was not able to celebrate her 10th year anniversary like it is currently doing. Previously, EACs chances to be sustained were shuttered down leading to its collapse in 1977 after its inception in 1967.
Thirty two years down the road, joy and speeches of hope have once again characterized the citizens of the now five nations EAC block as they celebrate 10 years of its existence since it was revived in 1999.
In Arusha, the EACs headquarters were filled with ceremonial songs while various politicians took to the pitch and proclaimed brotherhood in the friendly football matches between members of the legislative assemblies.
As a reward to her citizens for having lived harmoniously for the last ten years, the presidents of the five nations of Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania signed a common market protocol.
When its implementation takes effect in a few months to come, there will be free movement of goods, services and people to and from each of the member states without any tariffs and restrictions.
To many, this common market protocol is a blessing in disguise for it has come when the business climate in the member states is pretty enjoyable with several buses traversing the region.
For businessmen and women the common market protocol is “a gift from God” since a tariff free wider market for their goods is going to be opened.
Consumers are also happy since the common market interprets into obvious reduction on the cost of goods as low or free taxes will be levied on the goods they buy. Job seekers will also see this protocol as a blessing for it is going to widen their job search geographical space.
They will find it easy to move from their own countries and go to find jobs in other member states without Immigration hustles and form filling.
However, despite the advantages associated to this protocol, one greater question remains. Shall there be balance of benefits? Or shall some countries lose at the expense of the others?
A close analysis of the protocol shows that it has much to offer especially to low income earners and to small business operators.
But, for people operating small scale industries there is a great risk failure especially in countries like Rwanda and Burundi.
Yes, the common market protocol might help increase the level of competitiveness of such industries but can they favorably compete with the bigger industries in Kenya and Uganda?
The Uganda Manufacturers Association reportedly wrote to the east African legislative assembly requesting for the extension of the implementation of the protocol to at least five years.
A request that was understandably denied due of course to political reasons evolving from the political focus of achieving a political federation as soon as possible. But I personally believe that its not only Ugandans who are not ready.
Institutional capacity building and human resource development must be prioritized in these other countries especially Rwanda and Burundi as well as Tanzania in order to be able to cope up with the longer step that Uganda and Kenya have already taken.
Otherwise Ugandans and Kenyans shall swam and take over; and this will translate into the suffocation of our people.
The author is a regular contributor to The New Times