The signing into treaty of the re-establishment of the East African Community in November 1999 was a great step towards the development for the countries in the bloc.
At the time of signing of the accord at Sheikh Amri Abeid Memorial Stadium in Arusha, Tanzania, almost 17 years ago, there were only three countries: Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. Over the years however, Rwanda, South Sudan and Burundi have been brought on board to continue developing the region for mutual benefits.
Once upon a time between 1967-1977, EAC existed but due to some challenges, the integration between Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya collapsed. The ‘marriage’ died slowly due to political, and various development trends that existed in the three states at the time. Although the challenges still exist, it is commendable that EAC has managed to create integration among the countries and consequently development in various sectors.
In his New Year keynote statement from the secretariat, EAC Secretary General Richard Sezibera, noted the major achievements made possible due to the integration, stated the current situation and mentioned plans for the year ahead.
African Market will help to meet African Needs
Speaking about the importance of the African Market, Dr Sezibera said that Africa will “have to invest more in Regional Integration and promote Intra African Trade if it is to withstand the challenges ahead. He was pin-pointing this in light of the aftermath of the immigration crisis in Europe which caused challenges on open borders and open markets. According to Dr Sezibera, the slowing down of Growth in Emerging markets, particularly the BRICS countries has put pressure on Government budgets across Africa and in particular East African Countries.
“This is the time for creating a truly African Market - In goods, and Services including Financial services. This is the time for shared Industrialization, creating value chains across countries and regions,” the EAC Secretary General said.
By creating a single large market for the bloc, EAC will attract more foreign direct investment into the region that hosts more than 145 million people. By so doing, the countries and East Africa in general will experience immense development in future.
The establishment of the Custom Union in 2005 has caused an increase of intra-regional trade. “The Single Customs Territory continues to deliver benefits to East Africans both on the Central Corridor, as well as the another Corridor,” he said adding that financial integration continue to deepen as free movement of labor is becoming a reality, for Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda.
E-passport to ease movement within and outside the community
“I look forward to the Launch of the New Generation e- East African Passport early in the New Year,” Dr Sezibera said in the press statement.
Plans to create an electronic passport for the citizens in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania were first discussed in 2013. The regional e-passport was set for launching in November last year, but was postponed.
The process of availing the common-regional passports is expected to take two years. This will allow citizens from member states move with ease within and outside the community which is one of the mandate of the EAC.
Speaking during the World Trade Organization’s 10th ministerial conference in Nairobi, Dr Sezibera said: "We wanted the identity card to be used for travel across the EAC and next year  we will be launching the East African passport which will be the document used for travel outside East Africa."
Single currency to further strengthen economies
Money integration is one of the many objectives of the EAC. The EAC Monetary Union will benefit individual member states once it is put in place within eight years.
With a common currency, countries in the region will be able to trade and invest among partner states without the bottlenecks of the transaction costs.
Already, institutions such as East African Monetary Institute, East African Statistics Bureau, East African Surveillance, Compliance and Enforcement Commission have been set to deal with statistics, surveillance, compliance and enforcement, and the East African Financial Services Commission to be responsible for financial services.
Other notable achievements by the integration include the Inter University Council for East Africa aimed at turning the community into a Common Higher Education Area. During the EAC Council Ministers meeting on April 30, 2015, in Tanzania, East African Qualifications Framework for Higher Education for operationalization was approved, paving way to harmonization of higher education systems.
“When the education systems in the Partner States will have been based on these frameworks, then only will we have attained complete harmonization of our higher education systems, and that is a long-term process, which will only happen gradually”, a statement by the Inter-University Council for East Africa executive secretary, Mayunga Nkunya read in part.
Additionally, the One Stop Border Posts have also been completed and are currently being operationalized.
Image Credit: Village Urugwiro