As members of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) meet in Bujumbura, Burundi, it is imperative that they take deeply reflect on the effectiveness and relevance of the EAC integration to the ordinary East African.
When the EAC Customs Union and the Common Market were launched a few years ago, the citizens of the five partner states expected nothing less than the very benefits that the proponents of the integration process promised.
They expected significant reduction in commodity prices, easy movement of labour and goods across the bloc, as well as relaxed national customs procedures, to name but a few.
Nonetheless, these protocols have hardly had a significant impact on the livelihoods of the people. Instead, we continue to see individual states negotiating bilateral agreements to facilitate trade and movement of their citizens, out of the context of the EAC integration process.
A case in point is a recent agreement between Rwanda and Kenya to allow their citizens to use national IDs on each other’s territory. Nonetheless, Uganda will also have to join the arrangement to make it workable.
Similarly, Rwanda and Uganda are jointly working towards eliminating Non Tariff Barriers (NTBs) to facilitate cross-border trade. That individual states are coming up with initiatives to address the very challenges affecting their people, yet these are some of the issues the EAC should help address, depicts varying levels of commitment and sense of urgency among the partner states.
Whereas such individual efforts are healthy and should be encouraged, it is imperative that the community looks to fast-tracking the very objectives of the integration process as a single-united bloc.
Moving together would deliver quicker and broad results, rather than individual nations working outside arrangements.
It is, therefore, important that EALA members, as the representatives of the electorate at the highest level of the integration process, ensure that the much anticipated benefits come to bear fruit.