Unlike the first community of 1967 to 1977, the current East African Community integra-tion process is people-centred and private sector driven. It was designed to be a bottom up integration. History and experience shows it is the only way for such an undertaking to be sustainable.
The stated objectives of the community are the development of policies and programmes aimed at widening and deepening cooperation among the partner states in political, economic, social and cultural fields, research and technology, defence, security and legal and judicial affairs for their mutual benefits.
In order to achieve these objectives, the Partner States (Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan) established a Customs Union, a Com-mon Market and in the process of establishing a Monetary Union and ultimately a Political Federation.
The process is moving from one phase of integration to the next is fluid, that is not every aspect of that phase of integration needs to be fully implemented prior to progressing to the next phase. The integration agenda is a long political process and not a single event.
Currently, significant parts of the Customs Union and the Common Market has been implemented. We have a common external tariff and internal trade is duty and tariff free subject to the rules of origin. We have free movement of goods, persons, labour, services, capital, information and technology and citizens have a right of establishment in any Part-ner State. All the freedoms have some exceptions.
Free movement of persons
Article 7(1) and (2) of the Common Market Protocol requires partner states to guarantee free movement of persons to citizens of other partner states within their territories.
Each Partner State must ensure non-discrimination of citizens of other partner states by ensuring that there are no visa requirements on entry, no restrictions of movement within the partner state, that they are allowed to stay and no restrictions of exit.
Article 7(5) of the Common Market Protocol provides limitation of this freedom on public policy, public security and public health grounds. The recent border closures between the partner states were on the basis of public health limitation occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is perfectly in line with the Treaty, the Common Market Protocol and prudent public health practice.
What transpired at the Kenya and Tanzania borders is a classic example of escalation occasioned by a false sense of patriotism.
As a result of testing and high numbers of infected persons in the trucking industry from the Tanzanian side, it forced the Kenyan government to close the border to the movement of persons. There was no restriction of the movement of goods subject to the truck drivers being tested for Covid-19 and proven to be negative.
A perfectly reasonable and plausible decision in light with the public health risk. This also happened at the Zambia/Tanzania border and Rwanda/Tanzania border.
It is there-fore very unlikely that it’s a cynical attempt at taking trade advantage by our cunning cousins residing north of the border.
Unity at this critical time is crucial and chest beating “patriots” advocating for disunity that may result in a trade war should be ignored and strongly condemned.
Importance of the EAC
There are two centres of power in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ecowas in West Africa with Nigeria its centre of gravity and South Africa to the south aided and abetted by the SADC group.
The East African Community (EAC) can make this duopoly a tripartite. A strong EAC can change the geopolitics of the continent.
Currently with a population of two hundred million, with DRC and Somalia on the waiting list and maybe even Ethiopia in the future this block could not only be the most significant continental entity but also a relevant global entity.
The advantage that we have over all other continental regional economic groups is our deeper levels of integra-tion as well as our ambitious aims of being a political federation. Further there is an inherent flex-ibility within the group.
Article 7(1)(e) of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community under the operational principles of the com-munity, provides for the principle of variable geometry.
This allows for progression in co-operation among groups within the Community for wider integration schemes in various fields and at different speeds.
This was painted in bad light a few years ago when the press branded Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya as the so called “coalition of the willing’’. Far from being negative, it is a great strength.
It provides the required flex-ibility for the more ambitious partner states to progress faster and further than the rest. Those that are a little tentative are close enough to see the advantages and challenges and can join the group after seeing tangible benefits and devising means of miti-gating any challenges in advance of the process.
We should not allow this great project to be undermined by parochial technocrats
Abdullah Mwinyi is an experienced corporate lawyer. He was also a member of the East African Legislative Assembly for ten years