EAC Summits: Is it that much is said, little is done?

East African whispers

Sunday February 4, 2018

Flags of six East African Community partner states

By Isaac Mwangi

East African News Agency, Arusha

Following the events of the recent heads of state Summit of the East African Community and reading through the communique that emerged at the conclusion of the meeting, one cannot help but feel sorry for the stagnation in the state of regional integration.

It is a state of affairs that continues plaguing the region despite high-sounding pronouncements by regional leaders at such Summits and other official forums.

Indeed, many of the items emerging from EAC summits have become largely predictable, showing the lack of seriousness by our bureaucratic and political leaders in the integration process.

For instance, comparing the communique of the just-ended 19th Ordinary Summit held at the Speke Resort in Kampala with that of the 15th Ordinary Summit held at the same venue in November 2013 is quite revealing.

At the earlier Summit more than four years ago, for instance, the heads of state “directed the Secretariat to prepare a comprehensive list on non-implementation of all decisions for consideration at the 12th Extraordinary Summit in April 2014.”

A week ago, the Summit this time “expressed concern over the slow implementation of decisions” and as a result “directed the council to implement all outstanding decisions and report to the 20th Summit.” Four years later, even the language remains the same.

Perhaps, then, the only change is in some of the personalities sitting around the table. Four years ago, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania was part of the team. This time around, President John Magufuli represented the country. There was, in addition, President Salva Kiir of South Sudan, which was not a member in 2013.

The just ended 19th Ordinary Summit of the East African Community revealed that it is seeking $78 billion to fund over 200 infrastructural projects in the region in 10 years. The projects include the Standard Gauge Railway, hydropower, oil and gas, all valued at $62.2 billion. PHOTOS | AGENCIES

Four years ago, the Summit “directed that the Single Customs Territory commences on January 1, 2014, and that all operational requirements be finalised by June 2014.”

The latest Summit had this to say: “The summit gave impetus towards achievement and objectives of the EAC by directing the Council and partner states to fully implement the Single Customs Territory by rolling out all products and all Customs regimes.

The Summit directed the partner states to expedite the amendment of their national policies, laws and regulations to comply with the Common Market Protocol.” So, once again, it appears that there was little movement, if any, in a key area of integration.

Regarding Somalia’s application to join the regional bloc, the Summit in 2013 “directed the Council of Ministers to submit progress report on the verification exercise at the 16th Ordinary Summit in November 2014.

Years later, the Summit was still regurgitating its request, this time saying: “The Summit noted the report of the Council that the verification exercise for the admission of the Republic of Somalia into the EAC has not been undertaken and directed the Council to conclude this matter and report at the next Summit.”

Once again, there is no explanation as to why a request that was first made four years ago is still pending and being carried forward.

One can bet their bottom dollar that this same request on verification exercise for Somalia’s application to join the EAC will be included in the communique of the next Summit, with only some slight variation in the use of words.

Presidents John Magufuli of Tanzania (Left) and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya advocate for smooth trade during their bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Summit following numerous scuffles reported along borders between the two neighbouring countries.

A key area where there has been notable stagnation between the two summits is in the proposed East African Monetary Union. This was approved by the Kampala Summit of 2013 and a timetable put in place for implementation.

The Customs Union and Common Market protocols were supposed to have been fully implemented by 2015 so as to set a basis for implementation of the Monetary Union, yet this has not been done and partner states continue frustrating the free movement of goods, services, labour and capital – as seen when Tanzania recently burnt 5,000 chicks impounded from Kenya.

An East African Monetary Institute that was supposed to have been established by 2015, with three other institutions slated for 2018 to deal with surveillance, compliance and enforcement; statistics; and financial services.

But considering the inertia in the regional integration agenda, the best that the recent Summit could do was to direct the Council “to expedite the establishment of the Monetary Institute and other institutions according to the roadmap of the East African Monetary Union.”

Yet, without the political will to implement the Customs Union and Common Market protocols, this will be another guaranteed entry in future summits ad nauseam.

With stagnation in the above areas and many others, East Africa risks being overtaken by other regional blocs that are taking their efforts more seriously.

West Africa is keen to implement a single currency regime in 2020; this will be a major boost to that region if all goes according to plan.

East Africa will be disadvantaged when negotiating with such regional blocs. The region will pay a heavy price for its parochial sibling rivalries.

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