19 September 2017

East Africa: One E-Passport, One Language, EAC Trade Starts With Intra-Trade

analysis

WALTER Rodney, a prominent Guyanese historian, political activist and scholar once wrote details in his book 'How Europe underdeveloped Africa' and many scholars took hats off to him while others saw his shortfalls in his school of thought and labelled it one sided, but perhaps, former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo overruled it all in 1994 while burying Kenya doyen politician Jaramogi Oginga Odinga by saying: "Thank God Africa has been saved from many earthquakes and Tsunami, but the only earthquakes and Tsunami we have are in form of bad leaders."

To be precise he was of the opinion that Africa is going back to the oblivion as a result of bad leadership and expects outsiders to develop it as if there has been a binding contract that they must develop the continent.

To bring the point home again, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere every now and again talked of the continent fighting three common enemies he named as poverty, diseases and ignorance/ illiteracy, but after five decades from independence the enemies are still eating the continent to its bones including East Africa member states in this context.

Leaders (think-tanks in this vein) have thought of coming together to form joint blocs to help them address the challenges, but a prominent Nigerian ScholarChinua Achebe has begged to know if the war would be won if individual member states still treat each other with suspicion through a character he calls Okwonkwo asking his brothers a question that 'how can we fight a common enemy if my own brothers have turned against me?'

This is the typical picture each member state ought to address to uplift young brother like South Sudan now facing famine, civil strife, poor infrastructures and others in their East Africa Community (EAC).

Today, with new East Africa Community (EAC) electronic passports, and one unifying Kiswahili language for communication and trade, the bloc still thinks of wooing first outsiders to come to the region to invest and trade with on individual basis without first giving intra-trade between the member states.

The community has six partners of the United Republic of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, and recently South Sudan with its headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania and commands a population of over 150 million citizens, big enough to provide enough market for all sorts of its trade just like before the coming of the colonialists when barter trade brought cohesion amongst the partners.

The region has vast resources and has proved to be lucrative to many foreign investors with its 22 per cent of its population living in urban areas, and this implies again that all sorts of goods and services produced by any member state would automatically get market.

With a land area of 1.82 million square kilometres and a combined Gross Domestic Product of US$ 146 billion (EAC Statistics for 2016), the region bears great strategic and geopolitical significance and prospects to its member states to exploit.

They ought to respect the work of the EAC as guided by its Treaty that which established the Community with the sole aim of promoting peace and addressing the fore-mentioned enemies of development.

As one of the fastest growing regional economic blocs in the world, EAC should widen and deepen its co-operation among the Partner States in vari ous key spheres for their mutual benefit and see into it that it addresses political, economic and social evils which are likely to emerge in member states and cause rifts in the cooperation.

At the moment, the regional integration process is in full swing as far as Media Houses are concerned and reflect the encouraging progress of the East African Customs Union, the establishment of the Common Market and the implementation of the East African Monetary Union Protocol.

Before the bloc tries to woo outside investors who happen to have powerful economic muscles and technologies, its member states should be given priority in the most attractive destinations for mining, oil, and gas activities.

For instance, Uganda has made discoveries of around 2.5 billion barrels of oil, while Tanzania has large natural gas deposits. Earlier this year the discovery of crude in Kenya's northern Turkana region also created a lot of excitement.

Although the commercially viability of the find still needs be confirmed, large corporations like Petrobras, Total and Apache Corporation have reportedly expressed interest in Turkana, but have the member states been given priority?

In addition, East Africa also boasts other resources such as gemstones, gold, coal, diamonds and limestone. "East Africa is the next frontier for mining in Africa ... East Africa is in the stage of discovery.

This is the place to invest in," says Monica Gichuhi, executive officer of the Kenya Chamber of Mines, a body whose mandate is to lobby for favourable legislation and showcase Kenya as a viable mining destination.

The region has adopted a pro-foreign investment policy. The economic blueprints of the individual countries support public-private partnerships (PPPs). Most of the capital intensive projects, especially in infrastructure and telecommunications are to be financed and implemented by foreign firms.

This is one of the reasons why China's investment in the region has grown rapidly. Each of the countries has been active in fostering relations with other governments in a bid to encourage foreign direct investments.

But in general, each nation has profile potential investment areas which can be tapped as a destination and be improved significantly in recent years to feed the other member state(s) in need of its lacked material.

Yes, Africa is a 'can do' place and there has been enormous progress within the past few years for effective business between African countries. It is true that most of this has been more with agricultural products, but more countries are building capacities and becoming more competitive and open to industrial trade no matter how slow!!!

There is hope for a way forward, but we need more visionary leaders at all levels.

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