|By Zephaniah Ubwani in Arusha
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his Kenyan counterpart Mwai Kibaki are undoubtedly the more experienced Heads of State among the East African Community (EAC) member countries having been around prior to Burundi and Rwanda’s admission as well as before Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete came to the scene. A fortnight ago, the two leaders were in Kampala to address the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) during its first session this year and it did not surprise many analysts how the two presidents started to tackle the challenges facing the region now.
Mr Kibaki flew to the Ugandan capital Kampala to address the EALA, not as a Kenyan leader, but as the chairperson of the EAC Heads of State Summit, having taken over the mantle during the last summit in Bujumbura, Burundi. The Uganda President drove from his new State House in Entebbe to address the EALA. As is the case with the normal practice, the host President has to address the Assembly each time it meets on its soil and Mr Museveni did not waste time to turn up.
As an eloquent speaker, Museveni would always attract the attention of audiences when speaking during the leaders’ summits and other conferences organised by the EAC as has been witnessed countless times by those following his remarks. His speech on January 24, when opening the fifth session of the second EALA at the Parliament of Uganda in Kampala was, as expected, laced with historical anecdotes. The overriding point, however, was that political integration was key to strengthening the EAC.
Known for his firm support for the envisaged EAC Political Federation that has been toyed around for the last seven years, Mr Museveni called for the political integration of the region, terming it inevitable and the most rational vehicle for strengthening the regional economic bloc. “In addition to economic integration, integrating politically offers equilibrium in that it transforms the inequalities in the partner states into equalities in the region,” he said, noting that economic integration in the absence of a political federation could weaken integration.
President Museveni further remarked: “In the European Union today, we see various challenges arising from a purely economic integration model. Such may have been strengthened by having political unity as well.” He reiterated the need for strengthening of the Common Market, noting that it had the potential of opening markets and enabling access to all players. He added that the Common Market was vital to consolidate regional trade but did not waver in his speech that he longed for political integration to pave the way for economic cooperation.
The Ugandan leader recalled the old days, about 20 years ago, when he teamed up with former leaders, the then President Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya to restore and foster regional integration among the founder members of EAC; Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. He further remarked that he was elated that Burundi and Rwanda also joined the EAC and that he was looking forward to seeing the entry of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into the bloc.
For his part, President Kibaki was categorical in his speech that the success of EA integration should be measured by growing trade links and the broader economic cooperation that hinged on the protocols already signed by the member states. The Kenyan leader said generally some success had been made since the launching of the Customs Union in 2005 and subsequently the Common Market five years later. For instance, the intra-EAC trade increased from $2 billion to $4 billion from 2005 to 2011.
Mr. Kibaki told the EALA that benefits of integration were being felt in various sectors such as employment, rising household incomes and better infrastructure, especially the roads, which can be seen all over the region. But like his Ugandan counterpart, the EAC Heads of State Summit chairperson mentioned that politics would always be key to economic integration and emphasized the role of peace and security in attaining stability that can ensure economic growth. He said Kenya, EA’s strongest economy which shares a long border with war torn Somalia, was very much concerned by instability in the Horn of Africa country and prayed that the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) took control of the entire country.
For President Kibaki, known more from the early days of leadership for his inclination towards economics rather political wrangles, the concern over Somalia is quite obvious; Kenya has sent troops there to pursue Al Shabaab militants. “TFG of Somalia should gain full control of the country so that efforts are put in place for the national reconstruction,” he pointed out, noting that Kenya was seeking the support of all EAC member states in the endeavour.
However, he minced no words that there were still nagging problems in the implementation of the two protocols that underlie the economic integration of the region; the EAC Customs Union and the Common Market. He argued that laws that contradicted the Customs Union and the Common Market should be discarded to pave way for the smooth realisation of the two protocols whose implementation has largely lagged behind.
Zephaniah Ubwami writes for The Citizen in Dar es Salaam. Courtesy of Google alerts.