East African heads of state are expected in Arusha on November 30 for the 21st Ordinary Summit as the Community marks its 20th anniversary while faced with several unaccomplished goals.
The Community is currently witnessing frosty relations between countries coupled with an uncertain economic future saddled by a growing debt burden.
Rwanda is at loggerheads with both Burundi and Uganda, while Kenya and Tanzania are still working through occasional trade disputes.
On the agenda is the rotational hosting of the summit by member states as opposed to meeting in Arusha, a development seen as important to raising the profile of the bloc.
The leaders will also review a report on the integration of a fragile South Sudan and consider progress on the verification exercise for the admission of Somalia into the bloc.
The regional leaders are expected to cement their support for Kenya’s pursuit for a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.
Another departure from tradition will involve the heads of state holding a round-table with the private sector to set an economic agenda for the region, driven by goals that are in-sync with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
“The summit is important in offering political goodwill which we intend to exploit in addressing issues that affect the private sector,” Peter Mathuki, East Africa Business Council’s executive director, told The EastAfrican.
The admission of DR Congo into the bloc will also be on the table after its it made a formal application in June.
EAC countries see potential economic opportunities that DRC will bring, including its vast natural resources and a market of 81 million people.
“If DR Congo joins, the trade patterns for the bloc will definitely change for the better,” said Richard Kamajugo, TradeMark East Africa senior director, Trade Environment.
Consultancy firm Control Risks has, however, thrown a spanner into the works after warning that DRC’s admission to the EAC may not become a regional game-changer given the country’s notoriously difficult business environment.
“Non-tariff barriers ranging from arcane regulations and bureaucratic overload to poor infrastructure remain bigger obstacles to trade with Congo than tariffs,” said the Africa Risk-Reward Index 2019 produced by the two institutions.
The bloc has already resolved to postpone the dream for the monetary union after it emerged the 2024 deadline is untenable while the push for a comprehensive review of the common external tariffs that is facing a deadlock and non-tariff barriers that continue to cripple intra-EAC trade.
Technical committees working under the leadership of EAC Council of Ministers appear to have made little progress in resolving bottlenecks that are negatively affecting businesses and have seen regional imports and exports account for only 7.7 per cent and 18.7 per cent of total imports and exports respectively.