A decade ago, Holili was like any other border town-a mere transit point for goods and people between the two countries. But now, the revived East African Community is exerting a positive effect on the town. The new EAC came into being on November 30,1999, following the collapse of the first Community in 1977.
The founding members were Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Rwanda and Burundi joined the Community in 2007, making it a five-member strong regional organization. South Sudan's application is currently being considered, and if approved will increase the number of Partner States to six.
The main objective of the Community is to expand and improve integration among the people of East Africa so as to speed up economic growth and improve livelihoods in the region.
Unlike the previous Community, which was said to derive its powers from the top leadership, the current one categorically aims to be a people-centred Community.
Well over 10 years since its revival, people near border posts such as Holili are at the fore of interactions with their neighbours across the border socially, economically and politically. But what do the people at these places have to say about integration? Are the citizens of Holili and other border posts in the region aware of the existence of the Community? Do they derive any benefits from it?
With the support from a German based Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Tanzania office, the East African News Agency sought to find out exactly what happens at the Holili border post and the neighbouring towns of Himo in Tanzania and Taveta in Kenya.
A total of 50 people were interviewed at Holili and Himo on the Tanzanian side and Taveta on the Kenyan side.
The respondents included immigration and revenue officials, local government leaders, traders of both genders, youths, entrepreneurs, bodaboda(motorbike) riders, shop owners, food vendors, foreign exchange vendors, coffee vendors and cereal buyers and sellers.
Himo is a small town that lies in Tanzania near the border with Kenya, at least 10 km from Holili border post. The town has a population of 22,442 people. These comprise11,661 women and 10,781 men. Economic activities in the area include selling agricultural produce: vegetables, bananas, potatoes, and coconuts. There is also brick making from the local volcanic soil, cargo loading and offloading services, and transportation-including the use of motor bikes (bodaboda). Other activities include selling of industrial products, fuels and hawking of foodstuffs..
Himo is a major centre for storing and selling of livestock and cereals such as maize, millet, rice, and beans.
Maize traders at Himo said they knew about the EAC, but that the regional body was not helpful to them in growing their businesses.
"It has brought with it unlimited access for our Kenyan colleagues, who can now buy maize directly from farmers and transport it to Kenya. This threatens our business," said cereal trader Modest Merkior.
Merkior pointed out that previously, Kenyan traders would buy maize and other cereals at the market in Himo. That was no longer the case, making them redundant.
Four other maize dealers and owners of storage facilities at Himo also expressed reservations about the Kenyan traders. Samwel James, Chenono Herman, Dafa Abdi and Idrisa Mkwayu said the Tanzanian government should put in place a policy to favour its business people and protect them from what they termed as "unfair treatment".
"This free access for Kenyan traders to reach farmers directly in the remotest parts of Tanzania must be controlled. They should come to Himo or other designated market areas to buy maize. You cannot do that in Kenya," a bitter James told the East African News Agency.
He said if there were good reasons for foreigners to go into the remote areas to buy maize and other cereals, then they should be accompanied by a Tanzanian.
Amos Masiga, a maize trader and owner of a warehouse at Himo, said that unlike in Kenya, bankers had deserted them and did not support their businesses.
"Why don't see banks like NBC (National Bank of Commerce), CRDB Bank and others come to educate us and provide loans to our businesses? Why do they lock themselves up in their offices instead of coming to us? If I had a financial facility, I would definitely improve my business ," said Masiga.
Traders at Holili town also had their share of complaints against the regional body. "The Community was created for the benefit of the rich and powerful. That's what people living near the border say. Ordinary citizens like ourselves are harassed at the border by immigration, police and revenue officials for reasons ranging from lack of valid travel documents to yellow fever cards and taxes for the products bought on either side," said Paul Ngome, a bodaboda rider at Holili.
Ngome added that the Community was of no use to him and other citizens around the area. He called on authorities in the Community to do away with the requirement for a yellow fever card, saying citizens should not be harassed over petty things and should be allowed to move freely across borders.
His ideas were strongly echoed by another bodaboda rider in the area, Vincent Kibwana:"I benefit nothing from East African integration."
But these views contrasted sharply with those of Raymond Motesha, a former EAC staff now living at Holili and who could not contain his joy, saying he had tasted the fruits of the former Community and was happy it had been revived. "EAC is important because the harassment that was there previously is no more. People can cross the border to either side without any serious disruption."
Unfortunately, he said, most people were unaware of the Community and its benefits. He called on authorities to organize sensitization campaigns through the media-mainly radio, television and newspapers.
Having been a catering staff of the former EAC, he reminded the Tanzania government to pay their retirement benefits, claiming he only received a quarter of the package he was entitled to.
Frank Uroki is one of several foreign exchange vendors at the gate of Holili border post. He said he had only a limited knowledge of what EAC stood for. "Government officials don't bother to educate the people on even the basic issues like taxes and cross-border relations," he said.
Uroki called for massive media campaigns for the EAC to penetrate to people at the grass-roots level.
A food vendor at Holili, Jacqueline Moke, said she had heard about the Community but did not know exactly what benefit she could derive from it. "I would know it much better if there were some loans offered to people like us." She said she crosses to Taveta (Kenya) regularly for purchases without problems, especially during market days.
A stationery trader at the area, Rose Wilfred, said she had heard about the Community but did not know its benefits. "Traders and other citizens should be sensitized about the Community."
Justus Muyombo, chairperson of a group dealing with brick making from the volcanic soil at Holili, explained that he had only heard about the EAC through the mass media, but could not explain anything more. He acknowledged that he crosses the border to Taveta occasionally without many problems, and said the Community was important for their welfare. "More information about EAC is needed for the people to understand its benefits."
Victor Ramadhan and Abdi Ramadhan of Holili Check Point Group, who are involved in loading and offloading cargo at the border post, said they had heard about the EAC but did not know what it stood for.
This is a town on the Kenyan side of the border, about 5 km from Holili border post. Its population is 9,632 people, made up of 4,851 women and 4,781 men. Economic activities at Taveta are similar to those in Himo and Holili. Petty traders in this town sell agricultural produce such as vegetables, bananas and potatoes. There is cargo loading and offloading, and means of transportation include motor bikes (bodaboda). There are retail shops and food vendors as well as significant foreign exchange activity. In addition, a wide range of industrial products is to be found: eating utensils, thermo flasks, cooking oil, salt, packaging materials, tooth paste, soaps, sweets, building materials, cement and lavatory materials.
A petty trader at Taveta, Priva Mwabile, said he got to know about the Community through a meeting he attended. He said he needed to explain himself a lot to the police and immigration officials whenever he needed to cross the border to Tanzania. He called on the Community to undertake initiatives to sensitize the people about its mission. There was also a need, he said, to put in place equivalent services on either side of the border posts for their smooth running.
Juma Machila, like Mwabile, said he knew the Community through Good Neighbourhood meetings. He explained that before such meetings were initiated, there were several operational problems-especially for movement of people and goods. The situation was now better, he said.
Machila called on the EAC to remove all obstacles. "If possible, we should have an EAC identity card. The Community is good for us as it has been strengthening integration and business along the border. The Community is very important."
Another petty trader, Nzuki Daniel, chipped in with his comments: "The EAC must embark on a sensitization programme for people in all the five member states, especially near the borders, on what benefits it can deliver to the citizens of East Africa."
Daniel Ndiku, a Kenyan traditional herbalist, said he knew that the EAC was slowly coming back to the limelight, but said more work was needed. He said he could not easily do business at Himo due to immigration procedures that he said were unnecessary.
A banana trader, Dezi Munene, said she had heard about EAC but needed more information. "People should be given seminars on the matter."
On her part, Mary Munene, a shop owner at Taveta, said she had heard about the Community but did not make any follow up to get more information. Without elaborating, she said the body was important for integration of the people.