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IDEA Hails The East African Common Market

IDEA Editorial

July 10, 2010

July 1, 2010 marks the official establishment of the East African Common Market Protocol, whose members are Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. It is a historic achievement for the Eastern African Bloc in particular and Africa in general, for this regional cooperation means a higher level of civil, economic, cultural, and political agenda that will altogether benefit 125 million people with a GDP of at least $70 billion.

The East African Community (EAC) is a regeneration of an older community of Africans, but with new vistas, uniformity of outlook, enhanced strategies for development, and more importantly a new spirit of commitment by the member states to act and deliberate.

The old ECA was formed in 1967 and lasted for only a decade and by 1977, due to ideological differences and unequal partnership, it collapsed. Of the three original members, only Kenya had a relatively robust economy and the latter two were interested in protecting their infant industries, while at the same time taking advantage of the major portion of GDP contributed by Kenya. On top of this, while Kenya pursued a liberal capitalist mode of production under Jommo Kenyata, Uganda and Tanzania under Milton Obote and Julius Nyerere promoted socialism. These irreconcilable differences ultimately sealed the fate of the old EAC.

Thanks to some visionary leaders in East Africa, once again the resurgence of the community has now become a testament to history when it remerged in early 1990s. In fact, on November 30, 1993, the leaders of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania met to lay the cornerstone for the newly restructured EAC. They agreed to establish the Permanent Tripartite Commission for East African Cooperation, which, in turn, led to the launching of the Secretariat of the Headquarters of the EAC in Arusha, Tanzania in March 1996.  On April 1997, further action was taken by the Summit of the three leaders in upgrading the Agreement of the initial Protocol to a Treaty. In January of 1999, the leaders of the three members states met and agreed to officially launch the EAC in July of the same year. However, the EAC was officially declared on January 2001.

In the last nine years, thus, the member states have been working hard to realize the objectives of the Community. Uganda had suggested the admission of Rwanda and Burundi into the EAC, and although Kenya and Tanzania objected, they all finally reached consensus and Rwanda and Burundi joined the Community in 2007.

The EAC has been diligently working in strengthening the Community by creating a customs union, open borders and free movement of people and labor of all member states, common passports, and single currency. The leaders of respective member states understand that the objectives of the EAC can be realized if they cooperate in facilitating transport and communication, trade and industry, regional security, and investment in the Community. On top of these, the member states will ensure sustained development in the region, and in order to expedite economic growth and development they will promote political, economic, social, and cultural links between the citizens of East African people.

Beyond creating bridges between the peoples of Eastern Africa, one of the objectives of EAC is to enhance free trade and private enterprise; strengthen civil society; prioritize the role of women in changing society; encourage governments to be transparent in their performance and accountable to the people; promote good governance, democracy, and rule of law; and ensure social justice and gender equality.

The above objectives could be dismissed as rhetorical if real performances on the ground are not involved, but to be sure, all member states have exhibited tremendous commitment in translating EAC�s programs and projects into action. To this effect, they have created a structure of a Summit of Heads of States that meets at least once a year; a Council of Ministers that meets twice a year; a Coordinating Committee with a Permanent Secretariat; and Sectoral Committees that report to the Coordinating Committee.

Moreover, the Community has important and working institutions such as the East African Development Bank, Lake Victoria Fishing Industry, East African Inter-University Council, East African Civil Aviation Academy, and East African Librarian School.

The customs union for EAC, mentioned above, had been established as early as 2005; the Common Market has just been launched this July of 2010; and the monetary union will begin in 2012. If all goes well as planned, the EAC will witness a single currency, open borders, free trade without tariff, one flag, and a political federation of the entire Eastern African Bloc.

Because the EAC proved to the world that it is viable and promising, it has attracted various countries and investors from Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) showed interest in joining the EAC and has sent its representative, Ambassador Mpango to Arusha. The DRC, a member of both COMESA and SADC, will make its water, electricity, and mineral resources available to the EAC and the latter, in turn, will allow the DRC to use its ports of Mombassa and Dar es Salam freely while at the same time build infrastructure on the eastern borders of Congo.

The United States, Denmark, and Turkey have also shown interest to invest in the EAC and they have sent their ambassadors to Arusha. A delegation of Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) has just arrived at Arusha and reassured the African Common Market that it will involve its Africa and Country Credit Division to facilitate financial support.

The EAC Common Market is on the right track and there is no doubt that its objectives will materialize. One important and crucial ingredient for a unified Eastern Africa is the collective will and determination of its leaders. The other important asset for unity is Swahili, a lingua franca for all member states and eastern Congo. The EAC Common market will serve as one bright torch and hope for Africa in general and the Horn of Africa in particular. Like the EAC, ECOWAS for Western Africa and SADC for Southern Africa, have been viable, but the Inter-Governmental Agency for Development (IGAD) for the Horn of Africa has been torn apart and it is now defunct for all practical purposes. Some member states of IGAD like Eritrea have withdrawn from the bloc; Somalia is divided and does not function as a state anymore; Ethiopia, the biggest of all in the Horn and apparently the seat of the African Union (AU), has gone the opposite direction of what the EAC has now pursued and achieved. While the latter is aiming at attaining a supra-national entity and a grand political unity for all eastern African nations, Ethiopia has degenerated into provincial and local politics, which is the antithesis of African unity.

The East African Common Market is the best hope for all Africa and grand laboratory of unification that other Africans must emulate and learn from. We at IDEA are delighted to witness the beginning of a success story in one part of Africa, and success in one region in the continent could mean success in other regions of Africa.

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