By Elias Mhegera – LACK of involvement of the people of the East African Community (EAC) in its revival has failed to bring yields as it was anticipated during its re-establishment.
Shout Africa.com registered its presence at the debate at the British Council in Dar es Salaam on Friday last week when members of the Policy Forum met to discuss issues surrounding the formation and performance of the regional body.
The title of the debate was The East African Community: is it taking off? Many of the participants observed that the reasons that led to the collapse of the former EAC in 1977, which was comprised of three countries namely; Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda might be still haunting the newly established body.
The former EAC had collapsed due to mutual suspicion particularly after the Uganda coup d’état in 1971 which removed Milton Obote from power just to be replaced by Idd Amin who was seen as a dictator by many of his neighbours, At the same time Julius Nyerere saw Kenyan president Jomo Kenyatta as working for capitalism against his envisioned ujamaa ideology (socialism).
Participants said that the addition of two more countries Burundi and Rwanda did not rescue the situation because the citizenry at large of the three countries were not fully involved during the process of bringing back to life the community. The debate last week attracted participants from all five countries of the new EAC.
It was ascertained that land issues, mineral resources, nationalism and employment opportunities will remain a snag to the total integration of the community for quite sometime. For instance it was argued that the question of land ownership is a serious problem in Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda while this is not the case in Tanzania and Uganda.
Also Tanzania is rich in minerals in comparison to other countries of the EAC. However it was generally agreed that when it comes into venturing into employment opportunities Kenyans are more aggressive than the people from the rest of the community.
These and many other reasons though in subtle form were mentioned as hindrances towards full integration in the community by many of the participants who aired their views during the debate.
Earlier during the presentations Godwill Wanga a researcher with the Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF), said that the EAC has done a lot although it is facing challenges just like any other regional body.
“The EAC has laid the foundation for monetary union, it has encouraged the greater economic integration and growth through freedom of movement of goods, labour services capital, and right of establishment,” he said.
Wanga also lauded the fact that the regional body has increased efficiency in collection of receivable revenues at import of goods and of excise at transactions inside the country, and the cooperation between the customs administration within the regional arrangement.
He did not however, hesitate to mention the pitfalls of the EAC like a failure to achieve the best performance in the campaign against smuggling and collective surveillance border operations.
On his part John Wakeman –Lin the senior resident representative of the IMF in Tanzania said that the EAC could perform better if it forms stronger capacity to respond to macroeconomics fluctuations, deeper regional integration and support for high value export.
The former Tanzania minister for EAC cooperation Dr Diodurus Kamala said that leaders of the member countries should meet frequently to discuss pertinent economic issues because too much time has been spent on political issues while the economic side is not given a deserving attention.
Many participants in the debate agreed that importance of the customs union is the key aspect of the cooperation
Dr Kamala reminds that there is an uphill task in fulfilling a Common External Tariff (CET) on imports from third countries, duty-free trade between the member states; and common customs procedures as it were agreed upon in the previous meetings.
So far different rates are applied for raw materials as follows intermediate products 10 percent and finished goods 25 percent the latter percentage is fixed as the maximum. This represents a significance decrease from what was previously the maximum in Kenya 35 percent Tanzania 40 percent and Uganda 15 percent.
He says that however, this customs union is not yet fully implemented, because there is a significant list of exclusions to the Common External Tariff and tariff-free movement of goods and services. Technical work is also needed to harmonise and modernise the customs procedures in the EAC’s major ports of entry.
During the closing of the event Dr Kamala was reminded by contributors to the debate that politics and economics are intertwined and there is no way they can be separated.
The East African Community was finally revived on November 30, 1999, when the Treaty for its re-establishment was signed. It came into force on July 7, 2000, twenty-three years after the total collapse of the defunct erstwhile Community and its organs.