Since May this year, sensitization and consultations on the East Africa Community (EAC) integration process have been ongoing in the country.
The New Times’ GASHEEGU MURAMILA interviewed Prof. Anastase Shyaka, the Chairperson of the National Consultative Committee (NCC) in charge of fast tracking the EAC political federation. Below are the excerpts.
TNT: Fast Tracking the Political Federation of East Africa is a new concept. What does it mean?
Prof Shyaka: Well, I will have to go back to the background. You know well that the initial East African Community (EAC) had collapsed in late 1960’s and its revival was in 2001.
In the process of reviving it, the three leaders of the former EAC member states realised that the integration process was very slow-paced.
It is also important to underline the East African integration has four stages: customs union, common market, monetory union and the final stage was the political federation.
Now, from the initial understanding of the whole integration process, it had been agreed that we would all first work on customs union, sign the memorandum of understanding, implement it and assess whether it is working effectively as per the set plans.
From this level, the next one would follow in the same process up to the third one which is the Monetary Union. After completion of this exercise, the idea was to start discussions and debates on whether or not to have the political federation. That was the previous philosophy of East African integration process.
Later on, the idea of fast tracking came in as away of effectively speeding up the whole process. For example, Rwanda signed the customs unions but it has not been entered into force until next year. The process of implementing it is in pipeline and at the same time people are negotiating and discussing the mechanisms of the common market treaty.
The Governors of National Banks of East African member countries are also discussing about the Monetary Union while we also consult citizens on prospects of the political federation. We preferred not to wait until the first stages were implemented, that is how we adopted a fast track model through what is known as a ‘compression’ process. So, all these activities are coordinated by a National Consultative Committee (NCC.
TNT: Speaking from experience, what challenges has NCC met so far?
Shyaka: Before coming to challenges, I prefer to note that in general, there has been a positive apprehension from people.
In my sense, people have expressed their enthusiasm and excitement about the envisaged opportunities to be gained from the East African integration.
The overriding challenge is related to lack of enough awareness. Surely, the level of awareness is still limited. However, there are times when people ask very pertinent and challenging questions like the perceived fear of loss of their cultures, and sovereignty.
But it is quite important to underline the fact that, there has been a clear articulation of what it is. Actually, Rwandans are open-minded judging from their pertinent questions about favourably competing with other people from East African countries.
Many people would point out very key issues, on infrastructure and languages like Kiswahili and English. Others have confidently told us that they will sell some unique national values we have in Rwanda citing the traditional justice system—Gacaca, and the health insurance scheme—Mutuelle de Sante.
TNT: What is NCC‘s timeline?
Shyaka: The Government recommended six months but when we made a work plan, we found out that it would take us almost seven months. The first East Africa ministerial meeting held in April recommended four months.
In making this recommendation, the meeting only took into consideration the size of Rwanda and Burundi, and that is why they came up with such a short timeframe.
However, what came out in the recent mid term review was that there is much more challenging work to be done than they the meeting actually thought.
There is a critical challenge of raising peoples’ awareness first before we go on with consultations. Therefore, based on on-ground realities, we think that the consultations will take us close to seven months including collection of peoples’ views, and compling the findings. Nonetheless, hopefully by November, we will have submitted the first draft.
TNT: If eight millions Rwandans accept joining the EAC, what do they stand to gain?
Shyaka: First and foremost, the nature of our geographical position has been some somewhat disadvantaging us in terms of export-import ratios.
Therefore, we hope and are very optimistic that Rwandans will benefit from a wider and larger market base that will have been created from EAC.
In my opinion, there are thousands of opportunities in EAC but the challenging issue is whether Rwandans are ready to extract those abundant opportunities. Business people and all Rwanda must start to sharpen their competitiveness.