PUBLISHED ON October 21st, 2014

Traders secure strong pledge on trade barriers

President Paul Kagame was attending the sixth East African Business Summit with his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta when an aide alerted him of a complaint from Gatuna border post. Apparently, travelers were lamenting the slow clearance and wanted an end to it.

In response, the President immediately ordered the police chief and other relevant officials to rush to Gatuna, find out the problem and solve it.

Kagame used the timely anecdote to respond to a question posed by a participant representing Kenya Association of Manufacturers regarding frustrations at the slow transition from conference resolutions to real action to remove non-tariff barriers.

Obviously, President Kagame’s anecdote was calling for a glove and gumboot kind of approach to removing trade barriers that continue to encumber smooth flow of goods and services in the region.

“It’s a burden of leadership which falls upon all of us [politicians and business leaders],” the President said, added that partners must keep pushing until desired results are attained.

That was on the opening day of the summit which ended on Friday in Kigali.

The two presidents in attendance told business executives from the region what they wanted to hear; they had also come ready for the tough questions which indeed came in handy during the interactive question and answer session.

“As Presidents, we have decided to meet every two months at summit level to review decisions taken at meetings such as this,” remarked Kenya’s Kenyatta.

Kenyatta said the Political will to respond to the needs of the business community has never been stronger than it currently is citing the ongoing rigorous efforts to invest in major infrastructural projects among Northern Corridor partners, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda… including South Sudan on others.

“For instance last week, my colleagues launched the Kampala-Kigali section of the standard gauge railway (SGR) which I missed because a certain lady was occupying my time (referring to his ICC appearance in Geneva recently).

The SGR came out as an important piece of venture to the business community who say it will boost efforts of easing cross border movement of goods but one participant expressed impatience over its slow moving works to which Kagame responded.

“It’s taking too long because we started too late {but} now we are making headways,” he assured.

Both Kagame and Kenyatta agreed that facilitating regional business is what should occupy EAC leaders and inform the policies of the technocrats noting that business has a multiplier effect whose benefits will be felt by most East Africans.

However to achieve that, Kagame emphasized hands on approach to removing barriers and proposed stronger partnerships and a need to direct regional resources to the right priorities.


Both leaders also pushed through the agenda of EAC countries to denationalize and drop the ideology of ‘protectionism’ and give way for ‘east-africanization’ of citizens.

Where Kenyatta gave philosophical and ideological concepts, Kagame provided examples.

For instance Kenyatta talked about the ‘integration of businesses’ to enhance competitiveness but Kagame provided examples of how his office has previously employed Kenyans, Ugandans,

Tanzanians, and even Europeans something that he revealed had even irked some of his advisors.

“As leaders, we need to have a conversation with our people and explain to them that these fears are unfounded,” Kagame pointed out. It’s safe to say that everyone seems to be enjoying their piece of the EAC cake at the moment even as Kagame pointed out that ‘we are not yet where we want to be’ but added that ‘this shouldn’t blind us to the achievements made so far.’

Kagame says Kenyans and other East Africans have helped Rwanda in the past to fill its skills’ gap in critical areas such as education and health while Kenyatta pointed out that ‘Kenya (which is the region’s largest economy) can’t succeed unless the region succeeds.’ With such presidential camaraderie on display, historians don’t have to worry about a return to the 70s when the first EAC integration attempt collapsed.

A reminisce?

In 1977, the East African Community collapsed after just ten years. Ex-Kenyan Attorney General, Charles Njonjo, who was the chief Government legal adviser at the time revealed in a recent media repartee that he and friends tossed champagne to celebrate its collapse.

The causes of the collapse of the first EAC are well known including bad blood between Uganda President at the time Idi Amin and his Tanzanian counterpart Julius Nyerere but Kenya’s capitalist leaders were also uncomfortable with Tanzania’s socialist ideology… among many other constraints.

According to historians, that collapse was several steps back, tumbling over sixty years of regional cooperation especially between Uganda and Kenya who had formed a customs union as early as 1917 which Tanzania, then known as Tanganyika joined in 1927.

In 1948 the partners formed the East African Commission, which was replaced by the East African Common Services Organisation in 1961 until it was rested to give way for the formation of the East African Community in 1967.

Clearly, from a historical perspective, EAC leaders have always recognized the importance of integration and their efforts today show they have never given up on that dream.

But if the momentum had been built from 1917 when Uganda and Kenya first formed a customs union, the bloc would be celebrating 97 years of existence today!

Rwanda and Burundi who joined the EAC in 2007 would have found a mature and already established common market. Leadership clearly is the region’s master card upon which all the other efforts will dwell.

Kagame lightly hinted on this topic in reference to the Northern corridor projects by Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya (and South Sudan)… “others will join us when they feel the need to.”

In about two months, Kagame will meet his counterparts, most likely in Kenya to review their progress and with such regular interactions; the region will only need champagne to celebrate success.

Source:: The New Times

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TradeMark Africa.