Four Heads of State meeting in Kigali yesterday took concrete steps to fast track regional integration during the third edition of a joint summit where several ongoing regional projects were reviewed.
Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Paul Kagame were joined by their South Sudanese counterpart, Salva Kiir Mayardit, in the summit that resolved to remove all remaining trade barriers with immediate effect.
President Kagame referred to the meeting as a “milestone” and said that he was encouraged by the progress.
“This third summit to review important integration projects has been very productive,” said Kagame. “I am pleased that the single customs territory is now operational. This is a critical milestone that will boost doing business between our countries and contribute to the growth of our economies.
“But we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do to get to where we want to be. However, we are encouraged by the advances we have made,” he added.
One of the major decisions was the creation of a Single Customs Territory that will see the reduction of the days a truck takes between Mombasa and Kigali from three weeks to eight days.
Transit trucks will now be weighed only once at the point of entry and would be fitted with electronic tracking tags to monitor their moving on the Northern Corridor.
By November 2013, Kenya will have shared design plans of a new Standard Gauge Railway with the other countries present in the meeting. Railway training schools in Uganda and Kenya will also be strengthened to become regional institutes.
Energy was also high on the agenda. Partner states were given a November 30 deadline to have deposited, in National Bank of Rwanda, their contributions towards a feasibility study for proposed oil pipeline that will link the countries.
Other key areas discussed was the implementation of a single EAC tourist visa and the use of national or voter IDs, as well as student identity cards as travel documents.
The meeting also resolved that by the end of November, officials will have drawn up a plan to scrap visa fees for African nationals, and seek ways to reduce the cost of air transport.
A short news conference was held after the summit where President Museveni denied there was any rift in the EAC bloc because of the absence of other members; Tanzania and Burundi.
He said the summit was discussing matters to do with the Northern Corridor and that there was no ill intentions.
He mentioned that one of the positive outcomes of the meetings was the reduction in the time it takes to transport goods across borders.
“We are doing this for our people. We want our people to do business and get our countries out of poverty,” Museveni insisted. “Who does not benefit from the reduction of days a truck takes from Mombasa to Kampala, to Kigali? If there are any delays, I don’t think they would be intentional; it could be for other reasons, that is why working together makes sense. You can always examine what is slowing the pace and work on it.”
Kenyatta, on his first visit to Rwanda since he was elected President of Kenya in March, said he was excited by the progress the three countries had made in a short a time.
“I am committed to continuing this process that we have started and to ensuring that we see its success. We are looking forward to November as we begin to break ground for the new standard gauge railway line from Mombasa that will connect us to Kampala, Kigali and through to Juba,” said the Kenyan leader.
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit said it was an honour to be invited to the meeting, adding that he regretted not attending the previous summit that was held in Mombasa because of other commitments. He commended his host for the major developments the country had registered so far.
“Rwanda has been an inspiration to the continent as it overcomes the legacy of the past and builds a better future, a task we have just begun in my own country,” he said.
President Kiir is also on his first visit to Kigali since his country became a sovereign nation in July 2011, effectively becoming Africa’s 54th and world’s newest state.
“There is much for us to learn from the way President Kagame has led the rebuilding of this nation after all the horrors of the civil war and the Genocide.”
The four Presidents will today be joined by several other African Heads of State for the Transform Africa Summit that is going on in Kigali.
The meeting will discuss the use of ICT as an engine of economic prosperity for the continent.
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