Last week’s East African Business Summit in Kigali showed how the political leaders of the East African Community (EAC) partner states, especially from the Northern Corridor countries, were committed to making the integration agenda a success.
Presidents Paul Kagame and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya demonstrated a high level of understanding and appreciation of what needs to be done to truly turn the EAC into a people-centered and private sector-led regional integration community.
They concurred with businesses who expressed concern that sometimes resolutions take long to translate into real action on the ground, with President Kagame suggesting that sometimes it takes a simple call from the highest authority to those in charge to get things done, citing his own recent experience in addressing a case of a Non-Tariff Barrier at the Gatuna border post.
At the end of the day, business leaders at the forum looked fairly convinced that the political leadership, at least in the Northern Corridor states of Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, was committed to doing everything necessary to ensure that the integration process delivers the desired results – and faster.
With the leaders championing the EAC integration agenda, it is now up to the other actors, including businesses, civil society and, most importantly, the ordinary people, to make the most of the existing political will and strengthen the pillars that would make this bloc prove cynics wrong and stand the test of time.
Most crucially, the benefits from this renewed commitment and the resultant projects on the ground must be seen to be directly impacting the lives of the ordinary East Africans, who should be the ultimate custodians for this rekindled marriage.
The faster the ordinary citizen sees and enjoys the benefits of belonging to a broader community, the sooner the prohibitive national borders will fade, thus making it hard for anyone to destroy the gains made as far as opening up the borders is concerned.
This is particularly important in a region with a history of difficult political transitions, where new leaders have tended to undermine achievements registered under their predecessors. Citizens would fully own the integration process, thus guaranteeing its future.
But results must be felt much sooner than later; for instance, if the journey from Mombasa to Kigali used to take cargo trucks 21 days and has now significantly reduced to five days – thereby reducing transport costs - does this reflect on the consumer prices?
Last week’s summit also served as yet another reality check for especially local businesses. Rwanda’s private sector needs to go through the gears if it is to compete with businesses from the other partner states.