2008 was a year when the East African Community (EAC), one of the pillars of the African Economic Community, a regional intergovernmental organisation comprising of the Republics of Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi, registered a lot of progress.
Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, became the Chairman of the EAC on Thursday June 26, during the 9th Session of the Heads of State Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda. This was after his counterpart Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Uganda’s president handed over the chair.
With the major goal of unifying the five member states through the integration process, the EAC has achieved a lot of developments and progress in 2008.
The integration process which is cut into four stages namely; Customs union, Common market, Monetary Union and the Political Federation was created basically to establish and quicken the community’s development strategy as a way of consolidating the gains made as a region.
After the inauguration of a customs Union by the then three EAC states of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania on January 1, 2005, its establishment was this year.
A unified customs union through open borders that are working 24 hours 7 days a week is in place. This strategy was to break barriers in trade within the region which resulted in the lifting of internal trade tariffs so as to ease trade flow.
Currently, negotiations on establishing a Political Federation are underway and committees on Fast Tracking East African Federation have been established in order to quicken the integration process and also allow people to have a final say in the decision towards a political union.
Pending is the strengthening of regional solidarity in trade with a common market by 2010 which will free movement of goods, labour and capital.
Also the well planned facet of a monetary union- single taxation federation of the East African member states, by 2015 is in process.
EPA and EU mess
October 1-3 during the 4th Annual Inter-Parliamentary Relations Seminar in Kigali, Rwanda, the region’s parliamentarians called for their governments to scrap off the interim Economic Partnership Agreement-EPA with the European Union-EU.
This was in favour of the EAC developing “a strategic development co-operation strategy” with other African regional economic communities like ECOWAS (The Economic Communities of West African States), and also with the emerging global economies of China, India and Brazil.
This decision was a result of the EAC states were manipulated and maneuvered into signing an interim Economic Partnership Agreements framework with the EU in November last year following the expiry last December of the Cotonou pact governing trade between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.
This was after the EAC countries realised that the EU had a global market access strategy and EAC had neither a strategy for Europe nor, for that matter, a market access strategy for any other part of the world.
The responsibility to correct this was resolved by the regions parliamentarians who decided that the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) and the national parliaments engage EPA negotiators- ministers and technocrats, to register their concerns before the final signing of the Comprehensive EPA Agreement.
1st East African Investment Conference
The Conference was held in Kigali Serena Hotel on the 26th – 28th June, 2008 and was graced by Four East African Community Heads of State who were present. The three-day event was attended by 1090 delegates in total which surpassed the expected target of 800.
The conference budget was heavily sponsored by 31 companies from the private sector in the region. The meeting concluded with the realisation that there was need to develop ICT infrastructure as a means of promoting trade in the region especially in the aviation industry through electronic transactions.
Also ways of building the regions energy industry, producing high quality goods, promoting local tourism, and the support of tax incentives such as income tax or VAT holidays for say 10 years, would encourage investment in the regions industries. This would in turn facilitate the integration of the EAC economies.
In 2008, the EAC, after negotiations with the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) agreed to an expanded free trade area including the member states of all three.
The EAC was originally founded in 1967, but collapsed in 1977, due to political friction among the three states. It was officially revived on 7 July 2000.
In November 1991, there were signs of renewed cooperation when the three presidents held talks together and in February 1992 they agreed to resume the operation of the Community.
The agreement to restore the Community was finally signed in 1999. A new East African Legislative Assembly was inaugurated at the end of November 2001 and Rwanda and Burundi joined the East African Community in July 2007.