East Africa opened a new chapter in its integration process with pomp and celebration in the picturesque Tanzanian city of Arusha, with the launch of the East African Industrialisation Decade.
At the stroke of mid-day on Sunday, December 7, 2014, all the five EAC Heads of State pulled together a string unveiling a model of a concept saloon car, named Uhuru, to be assembled in Kenya with other components fabricated in Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. With the first unit to be off-lined in June 2015, Uhuru is conceived along India’s Nano and post-war Germany’s WV Beetle, to serve the ordinary consumer market segment, now dominated by Japanese used cars. The added beauty of this venture is that the four-seater, five-door sedan will be powered by solar engines.
The initial batch of these will be imported, but, according to the project directors, plans are underway to make them locally, with ‘refill’ stations along all highways. “We have the sun 24/7, so very soon, we shall replace these fuel stations with battery-change stations....you bring the flat battery, install a recharged one and proceed.
Currently, those produced can run 250km before the next replacement. Being late developers, we are taking advantage of technology at its highest; no need to start with the wheel and steam engine,” said Ndirangu Kinyanjui, the project’s technical director.
Uhuru unveiling function was a culmination of a marathon of events over the previous two weeks, the final phase of marathon meetings and summits targeting to fast-track the integration process. “Over the last 13 years, we have been piecing together what had been torn apart when the EAC collapsed in 1977; and now we are ready for a take-off to prosperity,” remarked Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni.
The Heads of State had over the past two weeks traversed all the five EAC countries, presiding over the launching of seed projects in key areas vital to the success of the regional integration. These are projects initiated and bankrolled by the regional governments, in partnership with local industrialists, citizens through their respective social security funds, local banks, cultural and religious institutions and the East African Diaspora.
The projects launched as part of the celebrations include: The COTEBU Textile plant in Bujumbura, Burundi. Prior to the 13-year senseless civil war, this plant produced the best cotton fabric in the region, using locally-grown cotton and silk.
“This is a major milestone in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Burundi, as we learn bitter lessons from our past,” said President Pierre Nkurunziza, amidst applause from the audience, with wild cheers from the ‘Tambourinaires’, the sacred drummers and dancers. The plant, when fully operational, has capacity to meet 60 per cent of EAC’s textile needs, while employing over two million people along the value chain.
A sprawling cotton estate and ginnery at Cibitoke, towards the old capital of Gitega, is among the nucleus plantations across the country that will feed the COTEBU plant in Bujumbura. Ginneries and farmers from across the region will also supply the plant with raw materials.
In Rwanda, the celebrations were marked by the opening of an ultra-modern fruit processing plant at Nyirangarama in Northern Province. This modern complex has grown out of a humble cottage-level factory, an initiative of a local investor, supported by technology and expertise from the College of Science and Technology (formerly KIST).
“When Rwanda joined the EAC, we saw an opportunity, so we expanded the plant using locally-fabricated machinery supplemented by components from India. We now have capacity to absorb 40 per cent of all the tropical fruits grown in EAC, and can supply 30 per cent of the region’s fresh juice market,” Damacene Iyamuremye, the processing plant chief executive officer, said as the Heads of State gave him a standing ovation.
“Already, we have a supply contract with farmers’ co-operatives in Nyakitunda and Masha in Uganda to supply us passion fruits and pineapples. This venture will employ over one million people directly and indirectly. We are excited about the future of our region,” he added.
Celebrations in Uganda were marked by the launching of Adekokwok hydro-power in Lira District. The scheme, a prototype of the new approach to power generation, produces 8MW, enough to supply Lira and the neigbouring districts. Built at a cost of Ugsh12 billion, it is the first project in the Local Generation Scheme, an approach where small power stations are constructed on streams and rivulets to serve localities. The Lira project was built concurrently with the Kayoora power station, in Bumbaire sub-county, Bushenyi District and Asamuk power plant in Amuria District.
“This innovation will be replicated throughout the entire East Africa Community. It is our own initiative, developed with our own funds, part of the Energy Fund. This has saved us from ‘noise’ of the donors for the so-called mega...mega power dams, where it takes a whole decade in feasibility studies, then technical studies, then assessment studies, then sijui stakeholder voices, begging for funds... Lukyamuzi...eeh, eeh, all the noise we had with Bujagali,” remarked a beaming Museveni as he led fellow presidents to switch on the power plant. A brain child of Rwanda’s energy ministry, the concept has been found cheaper to finance locally, faster and more feasible and flexible than huge power stations. It enables electrification of rural areas, leaving the bigger stations to serve urban and industrial needs.
At Ngara in north western Tanzania, the presidents opened an ultra-modern leather plant, which produces a wide range of leather products from the region’s hides and skins. Spearheaded by a team of professors and students from Mzumbe University’s Leather Technology department, the industry has capacity to produce 70 per cent of the region’s needs, with a smaller one planned in Taita Taveta, on the Kenya-Tanzania border, to serve both countries.
As part of the Ngara celebrations, a ‘mountain’ of mitumba, plastic shoes and textiles, collected from all the region’s markets of St. Balikuddembe (Owino), Gikombaa, Kariakoo, Nyabugogo and Nyakabiga was set ablaze as a sign of banning and burning all fake and rejected textiles and footwear from the region.
In the course of their two week sojourn in the region, the presidents made part of their journey in the newly launched Nairobi-Kampala Raha passenger train service. “Hii ni mali yetu, na tumeamua itabaki hapa, hapa,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta, as the presidents waved to wananchi during a stop-over at the Nakuru station.
The passenger service is the first fruit of the repossessed East African Railways, now owned by the five EAC states and local investors.
At the Nairobi finale, a as a sign of economic patriotism, all the Heads of State wore Kenyan made suits from the Nanyuki-based Nytex Industries, while their silk neckties, in EAC flag colours, were from Rwanda’s Utexrwa, with shirts from Uganda’s Phenix Logistics, while the shoes were from the new Ngara Leather Works in Tanzania.
“This is a strong foundation we are now laying for our economic integration. Some detractors had wanted us just to focus on trade, customs, common tariffs, etc. You can’t build a regional economic bloc on mere trade...exchange, minus production. For instance, the EU’s strength lies in its industrial base - Unilever, Shell, Airbus, Euro-tunnel all of these are regional ventures. If we focused only on trade, we would be easing the entry of their products into our markets. They come, set up a factory here and call it East African, then enjoy free access to our huge single market, while the money goes back to Europe or America. We cannot do that; we must integrate production, not just trade,” Museveni said.
“Unlike Dubai that has less than 3 million people, who can be absorbed by the shopping malls, sand beaches, etc, East Africa has over 120 million people. These can only be employed by industries, especially agro-based factories. That’s why we resisted some of our friends, who were saying that all we need are well written conventions and protocols, governing the integration, and the rest will fall in-line!.
“Protocols and conventions cannot work minus a strong integrated economic production. Our customs union cannot survive only on trade. Well, we still have some small problems, here and there of capacity...like this case of the Germans building our headquarters - at times you wait, but we shall soon be on our own. We, for example, cannot fully negotiate good trade terms under the EPA ...you see these same people still finance us...but ...eeh, thank you very much,” Ugandan President Museveni waved as he ended the day’s closing speech, with the band playing the EAC anthem.
The birth of an era.
The writer is a Ugandan-based commentator on EAC affairs