- The Presidents of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda yesterday held a summit in the Tanzanian city of Arusha, discussing the deepening of the East African Community (EAC). Measures as a customs union, a joint approach against famine, a common tourism market and a political federation were outlined. Being invited as observers, the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi presented their applications for EAC membership, which was welcomed by the three member countries.
Tanzania's recently elected President Jakaya Kikwete welcomed his four colleagues in the pleasant city of Arusha, where the rotating EAC chairmanship was handed over to Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki. This is already the seventh EAC summit, while Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni being the only of the three leaders having participated in all of them.
Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda were in agreement that the ambitious aims of the EAC needed to be given a new drive so that a real political federation finally could be implemented. President Kibaki yesterday said it was "imperative to speedily dispose of any issues" that stood in the way of regional integration so as to "strengthen the region's position in the increasingly competitive global economy."
The EAC has already implemented a customs union between the three member countries, but the step was not enough to cause real regional integration, the Kenyan President held. President Kibaki expressed the urgent need to streamline operations of the customs union by addressing non-tariff barriers such as customs, licenses, immigration as well as administrative procedures. "These barriers not only increase the cost of doing business but also slow the pace of transactions, thereby reducing the attractiveness of our market," he said.
Mr Kibaki left no doubt where the EAC had found its inspiration. The Kenyan President pointed out that the global economy has witnessed a shift from smaller markets based on individual countries to regional partnerships characterised by large economic blocs. "The examples in Europe, Asia and America give us confidence that we are treading in the right path," Mr Kibaki said at the opening of the summit.
The Kenyan President cited the customs union that was "now working well," resulting in a steady increase in trade between the partner states. Mr Kibaki also noted that more investors and companies were treating East Africa as a single market and the region was witnessing a steady growth of cross-border investments and services. "However, we still have a long way to go before we can realise the full potential of our cooperation," he added.
While the EAC was continuing to facilitate and encourage free movement of goods and services, focus has now also shifted towards infrastructure project. The concessioning of the Kenya-Uganda railway is ongoing, while several roads projects linking the East African countries are underway signifying closer partnership.
During the summit, the three leaders discussed several new dimensions of the EAC. The Presidents in particular discussed the devastating effects of the current drought to the entire region and agreed that measures be intensified with actions at regional levels to check the effects of the drought. They further directed a special session of the council of ministers be held next month to address the falling water levels of Lake Victoria and related issues.
The three leaders also agreed to develop East Africa "as a single tourist destination" and the operationalisation of Lake Victoria basin commission. The latter includes a joint development of fisheries in Lake Victoria, environmental management and development of the lake basin.
Present at the seventh EAC summit were also Prime Minister Bernard Makutsa of Rwanda and President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi, two states that recently applied for full EAC membership. According to the Kenyan government, the Rwandan and Burundian applications to join the Community were now being treated. A report on negotiations on admission requirements was to be presented for consideration to the next summit meeting in November.
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