The Ministry of East African Community Affairs will today launch its sixth edition of the EAC awareness week aimed at raising awareness on the benefits of regional integration with a focus on students and border communities.
The EAC Week will be held under the theme, “Eight Years of Rwanda in the EAC: Deepening the Regional Integration Agenda.”
Nathan Gashaija, the director-general of coordination of EAC affairs, on Friday said this year’s awareness will focus on community engagement based on special focus groups.
“Having that ultimate aim of engaging the community in mind, we clustered the categories of people who we should target. We identified students as the first priority,” Gashaija said, explaining that harmonisation of EAC education is now top on the bloc’s integration agenda.
Citizens, he said, especially the border communities, are another important cluster because of the importance attached to propping up cross-border trade.
“Informal cross-border trade is one of the quick wins we want to fix. How? By explaining to the border communities things such as the simplified trade regime and the opportunities in the EAC in general,” Gashaija said.
The awareness is held in all EAC member states during the month of November every year as directed by the Council of Ministers in 2010.
The events across the region are aimed at raising awareness on the EAC integration agenda.
In Rwanda, during the awareness, Rwandans will be updated on key integration achievements; key ongoing projects and programmes.
Officials will also listen to public’s concerns about integration.
Activities during the week will include the launch of East African Science and Technology Commission (EASTECO) in Kigali on Friday and a visit to Rwanda-Tanzania border district of Kirehe on Saturday.
However, the events will be preceded by a public lecture on EAC integration at the Adventist University of Central Africa; a students debate at Mount Kenya University and an interactive panel discussion at Kigali City Hall on Thursday.
Last year, the fifth EAC week edition was held under the theme, “EAC Regional integration: Benefits and Opportunities.”
A study conducted last June showed that only 44 per cent of Rwandans understood what the EAC means and are aware of the opportunities that come with the integration process.
Innocent Safari, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of East African Community Affairs, said despite the many achievements in the integration agenda, there are challenges to contend with, including slow implementation of projects and commitments at EAC level, especially due to an equally lagging harmonisation of pertinent regional laws.
According to officials at the ministry, the other challenges include projects often being over taken by events, delayed benefits to EAC citizens, and insufficient financing for EAC Infrastructure Projects.
Other challenges the EAC is working to eliminate include a mismatch between qualifications offered by the higher learning institutions and the job market; national priorities that often compete with regional priorities; limited involvement of the private sector and civil society; and persistent non-tariff barriers hindering free movement of goods.
An estimated $100 billion is required for EAC infrastructure projects during the next 10 years.
Rwanda’s achievements eight years on
In the past eight years, the Electronic Single Window System implemented by the Customs Authority and other local stakeholders is seen as a key accomplishment.
The system allows all parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardised information and documents with a single entry point. This initiative has reduced the time it takes to clear goods by an estimated three days, from arrival to exit – from two days and 10 hours to one day and 10 hours.
The Revenue Authorities Digital Data Exchange (RADDEx), a computer system that facilitates exchange of customs data between EAC partner states, is the other achievement.
Here, all advance information is accessed before arrival of goods in Rwanda. It reduces delays in cargo clearance by avoiding the duplication of data capturing at the border posts.
Under the Single Customs Territory along the Northern Corridor, goods are now cleared at first point of entry in EAC, weighbridges are being removed, police and customs check points were reduced, and computerised clearance introduced as well as electronic cargo tracking system.
As such, transit time reduced from 21 to five days from Mombasa to Kigali, and the cost of hiring a truck to convey cargo from Mombasa to Kigali reduced by about $1,000 from $5,200 in 2010 to $4,200 in 2014.
The removal of non-tariff trade barriers has also improved the business environment in the region.
Statistics from the ministry indicate that by September, 87 non-tariff trade barriers were removed with 22 remaining, while newly-identified and reported barriers in September were 14.
According to Flavia Salafina, the information, education and communication specialist at the ministry, operationalisation of the one-stop border posts, a concept combining activities of two partner states at a single location to remove unnecessary obstacles which hinder legitimate trade, has improved business at borders.
It extended working hours from 12 to 24 at Gatuna border post between Rwanda and Uganda, 16 hours at Cyanika border post between Rwanda and Uganda, 16 hours at Rusumo border post between Rwanda and Tanzania and 18 hours at Nemba border between Rwanda and Burundi.
The ultimate plan is to extend working hours to 24 at all the borders.
Under the Common Market arrangement which came into force on July 1, 2010, the use of ID or student’s cards and the waiver, by Rwanda, of work permit fees for all EAC nationals, are some of the other positives to note.