ARUSHA - President Paul Kagame has called for quick means in addressing the current under-development of regional infrastructure, if the East African region is to increase its competitiveness.
He made the call while making his State of the East African Community (EAC) address, yesterday at the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), in Arusha, Tanzania.
The President who also briefed EALA members on the current status of the regional integration, its achievements, challenges and the way forward; was addressing the regional lawmakers in his capacity as the current Chairperson of the EAC Heads of State Summit.
During the address, he observed that increasing regional competitiveness, is still hindered by the state of the region’s infrastructure, which he said would have been fundamental in boosting trade and investment in East Africa.
“Lets us face it – these highly strategic infrastructure assets that could drastically cut the costs of doing business in our region and in neighboring countries call for most urgent action,” he said. He particularly singled out railway development which he said still remains worrisome.
The President told the lawmakers that modernization and expansion of rail services in East Africa is not proceeding according to the region’s collective vision, which he described as a dynamic market, served by a network that links the coastal cities of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam “with their hinterland counterparts”.
Kagame also announced that the East African Railways Master Plan, has been finalized and that the final draft report is currently under review in partner states.
He however said that the challenge would be in implementing the plans for renovating the railway network, as well as extending it to partner states that are not yet connected to it.
The railway project that is currently underway will link three countries; Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania. On energy, the President said that the oil pipeline extension from Eldoret to Kampala was still ongoing and would be completed by the fourth quarter of 2009.
“The terms of reference for the feasibility study on the extension of the pipeline from Kampala to Kigali and Bujumbura have been finalized,” he said.
Similarly, the President pointed out that the terms of reference for the feasibility study of the Dar Es Salaam-Tanga-Mombasa natural gas pipeline had been completed and approved by the EAC Sectoral Council on Energy.
Kagame highlighted that the customs union launched in 2005, had stimulated trade and investment contrary to beliefs that it would retard economic opportunities for some countries.
He illustrated this by saying that in 2007, the total intra-EAC trade increased by 22 percent compared to the previous year, while the total East African trade with the rest of the world, also increased by 27, percent in 2007, up from 23 in 2006.
“This should further encourage us all to commit to an even quicker pace of integration towards the Common market protocol,” he told the legislators amidst constant applause.
He highlighted the non-tariff barriers and red tape that still increase the costs of doing business in East Africa, and called for continued progress in addressing the matter.
The EALA Speaker Abdirahin Abdi commended the President for having, under his leadership, organized the EAC Strategy Retreat which aimed at improving collaboration among EAC organs as well as addressing the needs of East Africans. The retreat was held earlier this month in Kigali.