The appointment of Dr. Richard Sezibera as Secretary-General of East African Community was a momentous occasion for Rwanda. Many have wondered the future implications of such an appointment and its impact on 140 million people.
We are undoubtedly losing one of our best ministers, a man who fought disease with military precision, he formed an army of health workers to greatly reduce disease and now Rwanda has some of best health indicators in the region.
He also has vast experience as a diplomat, as the Great lakes ambassador, he helped restore relations between DR Congo and Rwanda.
In these types of regional blocs, you have larger countries and medium-small sized countries, the larger countries often seek personal interests before the collective, and countries smaller have power through consensus. Hence the best Eurocrats are from countries like Belgium, Portugal, Holland, and so forth.
Sezibera’s task is great, to birth an idea that is largely on paper, to balance the interests of larger nations like Kenya, Tanzania with the wider good.
The reason why the idea has stalled is larger economies want to take advantage of the status quo while others want total reform.
My life has not changed fundamentally since we joined the EAC; EAC goods are not any cheaper, I still have to wait for an hour at the border, so not much has changed nor did I expect it to happen so soon.
His first task is to get trade moving, as a free trade zone, we need trade before anything. The EAC has to tax goods collectively, so goods only pay tax once. Transport infrastructure is another priority to help trade moving, this also needs to be funded and built collectively.
The EAC needs such bodies, ministries in effect, which oversee EAC ventures, a parallel government answerable to the governments and peoples.
The EALA has to grow and collectively debate regional policy, instead of summits being the main focus of negotiations, we need the EALA to be the body constantly debating policy representing constituencies and not national interests.
This is because national interest can differ within nations, for example the dry Eastern part of Rwanda has different requirements of the EAC than the lush Northwest parts. This is the way through the impasse of national interests.
The political development of the Union will be important if we want political union, that will make us the second biggest African country after Nigeria.
Then the issue of DR Congo having full or affiliated membership. The issue of expansion is always one that arises in blocs, like Southern Sudan will most likely join and we will have an oil-rich regional energy giant.
So, we might have a bloc of 220m+ people and we will jump into a different league, G-20 or BRICS. The possibilities of the Union are infinite, only limited by our ambitions and ability to compromise.
The EAC needs tangible benefits for ordinary people, we need this now, because it is the only way the people will truly come to believe in it.
We need to see trade barriers coming down, taxes eased, projects marked “A gift from the EAC” like the EU did, we need borderless travel and free visa-less work.
There is a lot on his plate, but Dr. Sezibera will surely handle matters, and birth this vision before it dies on paper.