February 20, 2018
By Isaac Mwangi
East African News Agency
News that Tanzania had intercepted 5,000 chicks from Kenya and destroyed them was received with a heavy heart in many quarters, putting into question the region’s determination to forge ahead with regional integration.
Indeed, trade in the region has long been plagued by all manner of non-tariff barriers and difficulties, mainly arising from the lack of political goodwill by leaders.
This has prevented the resolution of pending issues. When it comes to barriers to trade, for instance, new ones are promptly put in place once the previous ones are resolved, making the whole exercise a wanton waste of time and resources.
In the current situation, it is fair to recognise that Tanzania banned the importation of chicks way back in 2007. However, it must also be recognised that a lot of cross-border trade takes place unofficially between the communities in the partner states, especially border communities.
Should this be made illegal? Should any products found to have crossed borders be impounded and burnt?
Part of the reason given by Tanzanian authorities is that the chicks posed a danger through the possible spread of bird flu.
The question then arises, is there an outbreak of bird flu in Kenya, or indeed any East African country? Should Kenya similarly impound and burn any cattle from Tanzania crossing the border into Kenya, on the pretext that such cattle could spread foot and mouth disease, for instance?
As the region moves into greater integration, it is expected that there will be greater movement of people, goods, services and capital.
More areas of cooperation will open up between countries. There will be greater need for telecommunications infrastructure, transport services, and cross-border movement for tourism as well as in search of medical services, educational opportunities, and other needs.
Naturally, each country must be willing to loosen the controls as far as many previous requirements are concerned. Of course, there will be need for a proper regulatory environment in many sectors, but goodwill is required where either this does not exist or the existing regulations are against the spirit of the newfound cooperation between countries. And this is where East African countries are failing.
The East African Community has indeed spearheaded the harmonisation of regulations in numerous sectors. This is an ongoing effort that is in no way nearing completion.
There have been efforts geared towards the harmonisation of educational standards so as to come up with levels of equivalence, the legal environment, health and phytosanitary standards, engineering standards, and many other areas. These are welcome and should continue, but any delay in reaching agreement or implementation should never work to the detriment of the region’s citizens.
There are also areas where there is little sign of agreement. These include issues of land, where there has not been agreement as there are fears in some quarters about opening up to a situation whereby a citizen may buy land anywhere in the whole region.
Yet, such fears must be resolved before the region can have a fully functioning Common Market. In turn, this is a prerequisite for the coming into force of the East African Monetary Union, whose implementation schedule is already lagging far behind schedule.
When countries are still arguing about chicks, confiscating and destroying each other’s produce, what hope is there for a fully functioning Common Market?
How feasible is it to introduce a single currency regime where movement of capital will be curtailed by measures of this type? If we cannot agree on chicks and cattle, what possibility is there that we will agree on more fundamental macroeconomic issues leading to a single currency regime?
Increasingly, it appears that East African countries have reached a point where they must make an important decision regarding the future of the integration project.
The six partner states must decide whether they truly want to integrate or they do not. Dilly-dallying will only waste everyone’s time and eventually scuttle the whole ideal, frustrating all those who have held hopes of greater integration.
Perhaps, the aims and scope of integration need to be renegotiated. Maybe, no country is prepared to cede its sovereignty on critical issues, at least not yet.
That is why East African countries quietly downgraded their aspirations from an eventual political federation to a confederation.
It is probably about time that the same approach is taken in other areas as well.