TWENTY years. Where has the time gone? East African Community (EAC) has clocked 20 years since its re-inception in 1999, with stint being a testament of the bond that exists between member states.
With its theme ‘EAC@20: Deepening Integration, Widening Cooperation’, the celebrations are a joint undertaking by all EAC organs, institutions and partner states’ ministries responsible for EAC affairs.
From a humble beginning of three countries – Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda that also were forming the then defunct EAC, now the bloc enjoys wider cooperation and participation with Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan on board, while some others seeking to join as well.
The 20th anniversary has been marked by different activities; from blood donation drive to launching of the EAC 20th Anniversary Logo; from Prayer Breakfast to Anniversary Procession culminated with an Open Day at EAC Headquarters on November 30th.
Secretary General (GS) to the EAC, Ambassador Liberat Mfumukeko the new logo, celebrating the two decades that although have seen ups and downs, there is hope for the future as integration keeps deepening, in all pillars.
With the Community expanding in the last 20 years, it grew from the original three partner states in 1999 to six today, with Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) having made applications to join the bloc. It is Ambassador Mfumukeko’s observation that the desire by other countries to join the bloc, is with no doubt, due to achievements made by the Community over the years.
It has more conducive environment that have made it more attractive for investment and in the process raised the living standards of the people of East Africa. On the Customs Union, the intra-EAC trade has increased from US$2.7 billion in 2016 to US$2.9 billion in 2017 and to US$3.3 billion in 2018.
“The increase in intraregional trade can be attributed to the resolution of multiple Non-Tariff Barriers to trade by the Partner States and the establishment and operationalization of 13 One-Stop Border Posts to facilitate the cross-border movement of persons and goods. “The implementation of the EAC Single Customs Territory has, for instance, resulted in drastic reduction in the period taken to clear goods from over 20 days to three (3) days on the Central Corridor and from 21 days to four (4) days on the Northern Corridor,” he says.
Under the Common Market, the Secretary General singles out the abolition of visa fees for EAC nationals travelling within the region, the ongoing issuance of the new internationally recognised East African e- Passport by all the Partner States except the Republic of South Sudan and the ongoing harmonisation of mobile calling and data charges within the region as some of the achievements of the Community.
The Community has negotiated a total of US$2.5 billion from the African Development Bank (AfDB) for development projects to be implemented by the partner states with US$1.6 billion earmarked for various regional infrastructure development projects, namely: road and railway transport connectivity, energy infrastructure and ICT connectivity.
“A total of US$271 million was set aside for the construction of the multinational 301 km Nyakanazi- Kasulu-Manyovu road in Tanzania and the 78 km Rumonge- Rutunga-Bujumbura road in Burundi. For Tanzania and Kenya, the Malindi- Mombasa-Lunga Lunga- Tanga-Bagamoyo road will be constructed at the cost of US$585 million,” he discloses.
The diplomat says that on the EAC Monetary Union, partner states are in the process of harmonising critical policies and establishing the necessary institutions to ensure the realisation of a single currency for the entire region by the year 2024.
“Plans are at an advanced stage to put in place the East African Statistics Bureau, one of the four institutions required to make the Monetary Union a reality,” said Amb. Mfumukeko, adding that recruitment was already underway for staff that will run the Bureau.
What about the much awaited East African Political Federation? On progress towards that fourth and ultimate stage in the integration process, the SG reveals that a team of 18 Constitutional Experts and Legislative Draftsmen have already been tasked with drafting a Constitution for the Political Confederation, a transitional model to the Political Federation.
“President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda on Monday, 18th November, 2019 launched the National Stakeholder Consultations for Drafting the Constitution of the Confederation,” he says, adding that the constitution- making process would be as consultative as possible with no Partner State being forced into the Confederation against their will.
The envisaged Federation will boost the region’s profile politically, economically and militarily thereby guaranteeing national security of all the partner states besides enabling them to negotiate better deals on the proceeds from exploitation of their natural resources versus the more developed countries.
One of the important segments of the 20th anniversary was inauguration of the Citizens’ Engagement campaign dubbed ‘The EAC I Deserve’, seeking to reach more than 10 million East Africans over the next one year.
Ambassador Mfumukeko says the campaign will, among other things, include social media interfaces and a regional Youth Videos and Animations Competition involving all the six EAC partner states.
A total prize of US$25,000 awaits the innovative 30 youthful winners in the competition. This, as well, was launched towards the 30th climax celebrations, the whole idea behind the maiden video and animations drive being to enable the youth in the region capture real stories about benefits the Community has had on citizens’ lives.
They will be able to narrate the challenges citizens are facing that can be jointly addressed and to gauge the citizens’ aspirations of the EAC they want.
“Demographics dictate that the youth must actively engage in the integration process, for the bloc is yours and the EAC Vision 2050 is your future. Much as the youth account for over 65% of East Africa’s total population, capturing and incorporating your dreams and aspirations in the integration agenda through video and animations is imperative,” he notes.
The campaign also intends to encourage constructive and innovative coverage of the EAC integration process in the print, electronic and online media to provide ordinary East Africans, potential investors and tourists with insights on the existence of the bloc and opportunities in store for them.
The SG, however, observes that the region still needs to do more in all sectors to realize the many and varied aspirations of its 170 million citizens.
“As we celebrate what we have achieved so far, we wish to hear stories from every East African on the impact the EAC has made to his or her life and the future he or she wants the region to be. We at the EAC Secretariat are keen on capturing dreams and aspirations of every citizen of the region during and after this celebration through the Citizen’s Engagement Campaign we are launching today.
“This campaign will enable you citizens, particularly the online community, to use the digital space as your platform for engaging us at the EAC Secretariat, Partner States, the East African Legislative Assembly, the East African Court of Justice and all institutions of the bloc,” he says.
EAC covers an area stretching 2.5 million square kilometre, population standing at about 172 million (2017), GDP (current market prices) US$ 172.7 billion (2017).