President Paul Kagame, yesterday, called for deepening of regional integration to boost the continent’s ability to stand for its rights and fully maximise its full economic potential.
The President was officiating at the opening of an East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) session at the Parliamentary Building in Kimihurura, Kigali.
Calling for swift elimination of barriers to regional integration in the East African Community (EAC), the President used the occasion to call upon African leaders and citizens to work towards continental unity and integration for prosperity.
“Continental unity and integration are our best insurance against denial of our ability to play our rightful role in the world,” the Head of State told the lawmakers, drawn from the EAC partner states of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
In a veiled reference to hostile western policies towards Africa, Kagame said the continent needed to stand firmly for her own rights.
“Africa continues to be the only place on this planet where people in the process of exercising their democratic rights are warned against the consequences of their choices,” he said, to deafening applause from the audience.
“It (Africa) continues to be the only place where you are actually offended by and from outside and by outsiders and you must be the one to apologise. And if you don’t, then you will be penalised.”
For the next two weeks, EALA MPs sitting in Kigali will hold deliberations on topics that mainly include regional trade policies such as the EAC Vehicle Control Bill and the One-Stop Border Posts Bill.
The Vehicle Control Bill would allow all partner states to have a harmonised load limit and modern weighbridge stations to protect roads and reduce the cost of transport in the region. The One-Stop-Border Post Bill would provide the legal framework for the operation of border posts of two partner states under one roof, making them more efficient for Customs and Immigration checks.
While a harmonised legal regime would govern vehicle loads in the region, businesses and governments in the EAC stand to register an estimated one billion dollars in annual savings from reduced transportation and maintenance costs.
EALA Speaker Margaret Nantongo Zziwa, worries that some partner states remain reluctant to align their national laws with EAC standards as stipulated in the EAC Treaty.
“To realise the opportunities, partner states need to review their domestic laws to conform to the commitment and undertaking made in the Treaty. EALA is appealing to the partner states to address the issue swiftly,” the Speaker said last week.
Until the reforms are made, money will continue to be lost in customs bureaucracy across the EAC region, experts say.
“We must increase the level of intra-African trade and investment and extend integration across the continent,” the President said.
Africa has enormous reserves of natural resources, youthful populations and the fact that Africa is the only continent that reached an average annual growth rate of 5 per cent over the last five years, Kagame reminded the lawmakers.
He called on the region’s legislators to push for people-centred policies, saying that “it is crucial that decision-making and oversight mechanisms become more responsive to aspirations of EAC citizens”.
“It remains the responsibility of the governments of partner states, organs of the East African Community and other partners and stakeholders to make integration work better and more efficiently in order to benefit all the citizens of East Africa.,” he said.
Kagame urged EALA members to “move fast on the creation of a single customs territory to facilitate trade across the region” as agreed in the various protocols guiding the bloc’s integration process.
The MPs, who are meeting for their fifth meeting of the first session of EALA, will end their plenary on April 26. Ugandan President and current chair of the EAC Summit Yoweri Kaguta Museveni will deliver the annual State of the EAC Address at a special EALA sitting in Kigali on Thursday.
Clik here for President Kagame’s full speech