AS new faces take the reins of the East African Community (EAC) executive and judicial organs, a more united and prosperous bloc is envisioned.
While Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta becomes the new Chairman of the EAC Summit (Heads of State), the Secretariat - executive organ of the Community will soon be under Dr Peter Mathuki.
This follows the 21st ordinary meeting of the Summit of the East African Community Heads of State, held virtually on Saturday.
Mr Mathuki will take over on April 25, this year. The Secretary-General, appointed by the Summit, is the principal executive and accounting officer of the Community as well as the Secretary to the Summit.
The only EAC founding leader currently in power, President Yoweri Museveni is happy that things are moving well in East African Integration, which is about fraternity, security and prosperity.
The latter is through production of goods and services with assured markets, something he says EAC is moving in the right direction.
As for the fraternity, President Museveni said it is all about uniting people who are either similar or linked and as for EAC partner states, he sees strength in having Kiswahili as a shared language by all states.
He talked tough on security, urging partner states to move together as security threats are not fragmented.
EAC should be careful and act together in defeating terrorism and other threats such as those that happened in northern Kenya and on its coast with border with Somalia, areas near Democratic Republic of Congo, Northern Mozambique.
Leading the meeting virtually, President Kenyatta who took over the instruments of power from his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame vowed to move ahead to ensure an extra united, strong and prosperous Community that will benefit its people handsomely.
Speaking to fellow EAC partner states leaders and the general public, Mr Kenyatta noted that his focus is to strengthen connectivity and sustainable implementation of projects and programmes in productive sectors.
Mr Kenyatta called on partner states namely; Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan to harmonise commitment on movement of people, goods and services as per the 6th Development Strategy 2021/2022 to 2025/2026 to navigation deeper integration and intra-region trade
"As I assume the chairmanship of the Summit and the Community, I want to express my profound honour and gratitude for the honour that you have bestowed upon me and the Republic of Kenya.
With the discharge of this high responsibility, I want to assure you that I will spare no efforts in steering the community towards realisation of the shared aspirations of the people that inspired the consensus that gave rebirth of the Community 20 years ago,” says President Kenyatta who is on his final term in the highest office in Kenya.
President Kenyatta thanked his predecessor Paul Kagame for steering the Community for the last two years. He noted that the Community achieved commendable progress in different sectors and so it will always be indebted for Mr Kagame’s efforts that have been for the benefit of people of EAC countries.
“As a Community that needs larger integration, institutional framework shaped to manage responsibilities, objectives will not be achieved unless the institutions established to run the Community effectively handle their responsibilities,” noted the new chairman, calling upon facilitation of EAC communities to achieve the objectives for this and the future generations.
It is in the same spirit of broader integration, more intra-regional trade and free movement of people, goods and services, President Kenyatta was affirmative of the prayer put before him by his South Sudan counterpart, Mr Salva Kiir who had earlier on asked for a waiver of visa to his people by East African governments, specifically Kenya and Uganda to ease the movement of people and goods.
In his speech to the Summit from Juba, President Kiir affirmed his country's willingness to fully integrate in the EAC through the Custom Union. He pledged his country to do that while addressing some challenges it faces.
In yet another positive tone and show of solidarity in the bloc, President Kiir vowed to start paying outstanding fees to EAC that lapse from 2016 to present.
“South Sudan owes membership fees from 2016 – 2021. The delay of payment is not due to willful neglect but due to some challenges that were further aggravated by the Covid-19 Pandemic.
We want to stabilise the country hence I appeal to the Secretariat to liaise with my officials and restructure the amount that South Sudan owes in order to find a suitable formula for payment,” he asked.
He promised that South Sudan will move forward, fresh payments this year and that it is committed to paying its membership fees without default in demonstrating their commitment to continue honoring EAC.
“One of the key plans for EAC is free movement of people and goods. It is in this region of ours that I appeal for visa waiver especially South Sudan on one end and Kenya and Uganda on the other. It is in our best interest we ease such movement. We will facilitate trade, investment, as well as contribution to our goals of EAC regional integration,” said President Kiir.
Updating the status of South Sudan regarding the Custom Union, he said that in 2016 South Sudan pledged to fully implement Custom Union requirements by 2019 but were not able to beat the deadline due to a combination of factors.
“We are now prepared to undertake what is required so as to join the Custom Union. We appeal for additional capacity building support especially the National Revenue Authority from EAC so as to fast track joining the Custom Union in the near future,” said Mr Kiir.
The outgoing Chairman Mr Kagame said in spite of the fact that Covid-19 Pandemic affected negatively many systems such as health, trade and transport like no time before, it has proved the strength of EAC institutions in mitigating the effects of Covid-19.
Mr Kagame said it is time that EAC moves forward even stronger. He reiterated what he had said in his farewell speech in his Twitter account saying; “Our focus now should be on rebuilding stronger than before, with closer regional cooperation as a pillar of our resilience and prosperity.”