120 million people on a land of 1,8 millions square km with a combined GDP of 41 billion dollars. This is East Africa, the region of Mr Kibaki, president of Kenya.
During a conference, he recently stressed the importance of a deeper economic and political integration of the region, adding that the actual economic cooperation is the basis for the political unity of East Africa.
“The East African Community is not just a myth but a reality”. These are the words of President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya when he was assuming office as the chairman of EAC in December 2006 as quoted by one of the influential publications of the Financial Times magazine. This was during the 8th Summit of the EAC heads of state at Arusha, Tanzania.
The Treaty establishing the EAC was signed by the heads of state of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania the 30 November 1999 with a view to establishing a common market by the year 2010, customs union which is already in place, monetary union by 2012 and ultimately a political federation. This move was an effort to revive the EAC which collapsed in 1977 amid suspicion, vested interests and disenchantment among member states of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
During the 8th Summit when Kibaki was taking over the EAC mantle from his Tanzanian counterpart Jakaya Kikwete, Rwanda and Burundi were admitted as full members to the EAC which became effective 1st July 2007. When he took over, Kibaki’s first aim was to expand and widen the EAC by incorporating new members, in this case Rwanda and Burundi.
The fundamental principal of EAC treaty, according to the Kenyan leader, is that of sovereign equality among all EAC members. The treaty envisages growth of greater economic, social and political integration.
Kibaki who studied and taught Economics at the prestigious Makerere university in Uganda attributes his burning ambition for a feasible regional economic bloc within East Africa to his earlier interaction with diverse citizens from other countries while in Makerere. He says from the interactions he came to learn that EA people had a common interest and goal.
Kibaki stresses the importance of regional integration which is meant to bolster economic growth and strengthen social and political ties along with raising the living standards of the people. Culturally Kibaki envisages regional integration as a way to solidify unity of diverse EA communities. This, he says, promotes peaceful co-existence and makes it easy for EA people to cross the borders and freely trade and socialize with counterparts from other member states.
By emphasizing the importance of regional integration, Kibaki promotes a strong customs union and a common market. For example the EAC customs union has been in lace for the last three years while a common market is expected to be functional following the launching of the 3rd EAC development strategy (2006-2010) during the 8th
summit.There are also other concerted efforts by the member countries to improve road, railway and air transport as a way of strengthening the regional integration.
In order for the regional integration to work effectively, Kibaki advocates for a strong participation from the private sector, civil society and the people of EA in general. As a firm believer in regional integration, Kibaki is optimistic that the emergence of EAC as a regional economic block will lead to rapid and sustainable development in the region.
Just like the EAC, there are other already established regional economic blocs in Africa namely the Economic commission of West Africa State (ECOWAS), South Africa Development Commission (SADC) among others. The blocs encourage cross border investments, free movement of goods and services, harmonization of customs including trade tariffs etc. They indeed provide an enabling environment for the operation of the private sector.
The combined population of EAC stands at 120 Million people occupying a land area of 1,8 million square kilometers with a combined GDP of US$ 41 billion. The population offers economically viable market for both local and imported goods and services. Kenya ‘s exports for example to the EAC region rose from 18% in 1990 to 26% in 2002. Kenya is the 2nd and 6th largest market for Uganda and Tanzanian products respectively. With Rwanda and Burundi joining the fold, means additional and ready market for products and services from other member states.
By Ken Chelimo
Photo by DEMOSH
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