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Kenya: New generation steers East Africa into political union

Third generation of leaders steers East Africa through economic prosperity to political union to fulfil the dreams of African great statesmen and fathers of the free Africa.


The renewed East African Community (EAC) according to Ibrahim Rashid, 76, a Tanzanian retired teacher, is on right direction towards the vision of Africa’s independence leaders of having a United States of Africa. Ibrahim says: « Today’s leaders must fulfil the dreams of  our great statesmen, among them Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Jamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria, and Ahmed Sekou Toure Guinea. They set a foundation of uniting Africa. »


He was referring to the EAC comprising six countries – Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan – with a total population of 150 million, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$146 billion, and a size of 1.82 million square kilometers. The EAC was first created by three countries – Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in 1967 – and it was dissolved in 1977 due to various reasons, including political ideologies. Kenya and Uganda perused free market economy, while Tanzania was a socialist country. Tanzania and Uganda were not happy with Kenya, and they felt that the country was the main beneficiary of the treaty.


The revived unity


The new EAC is set up by leaders of common approach to local issues facing their people, such as poverty and unemployment. The countries have a four-phase treaty – customs union, common market, monetary union and political union.


The customs union roadmap started in 2005 and completed in 2010. It set up zero tariffs on intra-states trade, and common tariffs for goods from outside the block. In the same year the common market also came into operation. It gave free movement of persons, goods, capital, labor and services. The rights of doing business and residence, and the methods of handling trade disputes.


Cross-country border trade has also increased. People leaving in border towns sell their goods on market days in another state.  While others travel to cities in the region to buy goods for sell in their home countries.


Mary Njoki, 30, a trader in Nairobi travels to Uganda and Tanzania to buy textile materials, leather shoes and other goods for sale in her shop, said: « I visit each country once a month, because goods there are very cheap and Kenyans like them. »


Kenyans buy more from Uganda and Tanzania because of their currency strength relative to these countries. Ksh1 (Kenya Shilling) Exchanges for Tsh 21 (Tanzania Shillings), and Ush.35 (Uganda Shillings) respectively.


The East African Court of Justice


Much has been achieved, including setting up of the East African Legislative Assembly and the East African Court of Justice.


Mr Daniel Achach, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, expert in trade policy and trade law, says: « The EAC is the fastest growing regional block in Sub-Sahara Africa, and new markets have been created in the region. Primary goods – coffee, tea, tobacco, cotton, rice, maize, and wheat flour – dominate the market. « Others are manufactured products, such as cement, petroleum, textiles, sugar, beer and salt. Kenya is the leading beneficiary followed by Uganda and Tanzania. »


He added that the Common Market Protocol has liberalized seven-service sectors – communication, transport, financial, business, distribution, education, and tourism.


However, Mr Achach feels that issues of travel documents and work permits for citizens of the member states need to be harmonized. Tanzania requires East Africans to use passports to visit the country, and work a permits to work there. Other countries require only national identification cards. Tanzania also requires Employers not to give jobs to foreigners, unless no Tanzania is qualified for it. Companies must explain the arrangement being made to train a citizen to take up a job if given to foreigner.




Although a lot of gains have been made, the EAC faces many challenges some of which are not made public by the member states despite being in public domain. Each state tends to limit the influx of foreigners for security reasons – terrorism, human and drugs trafficking, money laundering and common crimes. There is also fear that foreigners will take up jobs meant for their citizens.


In January 2016, President Magufuli of Tanzania declared what is known in Kiswahili as « Timua Wageni », meaning ”Kick out foreigners. » Hundreds of Kenyans, even those with work permits, were deported.


In April 2016, Uganda pulled out of an oil project « Lamu Prort – South Sudan – Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) in favor for another in Tanga Port, Tanzania. The project was meant to connect the pipeline from the Kenya’s island of Lamu through northern Kenya to Hoima in Western Uganda. Uganda said it did so because of insecurity in northern Kenya, and conflicts in South Sudan.


In August 2015, President Kenyatta of Kenya agreed with the President of Uganda, Museveni, to import cheap sugar into Kenya. People and leaders from the sugarcane growing western Kenya opposed the move on grounds that it was dumping as Kenya had enough sugar. Kenyans were also to export beef to Uganda under the deal.


A political union


But a Ugandan political scientist, Paul Okello, 52, see things differently: « These are minor challenges common in any start-ups. They measure our heads of states resolve to unity and strength to withstand challenges. »


In short, the region is moving towards its four pillars culminating at full political union. Its vision 2050 is to achieve an upper middle income status within a secure and politically united East Africa.


The successes being seen supersede the challenges. The leaders are doing all possible to avoid costly mistakes that brought down the first EAC. It was a lesson as the saying goes: « If you want to tighten your belt, loosen it first. »


AUTEUR Daniel Sitole // Photo Daniel Sitole, légende : Truck drivers, transporting goods from the port of Mombasa in Kenya to Uganda


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