New deal to boost East African Community trade ties


From left: Presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania), Mwai Kibaki (Kenya) and Pierre Nkurunzinza (Burundi) after the signing of the protocol for the establishment of the EAC Common Market in Arusha, Tanzania, on Friday. Photo/PHOEBE OKALL


(Arusha, Tanazania) – The Presidents of the five East African countries on Friday signed a protocol paving the way for the free movement of goods and people across the region.

However, East Africans will have to wait for eight months before they can enjoy the fruits of the deal signed in Arusha on Friday.

If the protocol is eventually ratified by the five governments, via their ministers and MPs, it will make it easier for on to travel freely within the five East African Community members states without having to pay entry visas.

Under the Common Market, which comes into force in July next year, East African citizens will have the freedom to enter the territory of a partner state without a visa.

The free movement of labour means that professionals will be able to work in any of the five states without having to get work permits while the free movement of  services means one can contract a professional in a member state to perform a task without paying extra charges.

The members states have agreed to mutually recognise the academic and professional qualifications, experience, licences and certifications given in members states.

East Africans will also benefit from the recent discovery of oil in Uganda following the signing of the Common Market Protocol by the heads of the five member states.

The protocol comes into force in July 2010 but Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni made it clear that the oil belongs to East Africa.

“The good thing about oil money, and I mean no offence to agriculture, is that it is more than that from agriculture and can be used for a lot of things,” he said on Friday.

Mr Museveni said the money would be useful in the development of the region’s infrastructure, seen as the most crucial part of efforts to come up with a political federation by 2015 and a monetary union by 2012.

Leaders who spoke at the signing ceremony hailed the Common Market Protocol as the beginning of a new dawn for the region, whose first attempt at forming a federation collapsed on its 10th anniversary in 1977.

It was revived in 1999 by Presidents Benjamin Mkapa (Tanzania), Daniel arap Moi (Kenya) and Yoweri Museveni.

Friday’s events were also to celebrate 10 years since the revival of the EAC.

Put on hold

Plans to hold a rally at the Sheikh Abeid Karume stadium were put on hold due to rains but the five presidents laid a foundation stone for the new secretariat headquarters in Arusha. A new anthem and flag were also to be unveiled.

The ceremony was delayed for two hours as the presidents thrashed out issues in a meeting with EAC secretary general Juma Mwapachu.

Some of the benefits of the Common Market Protocol include the elimination of the requirement for visa between the member states.

“The experiences of the past 10 years have shown us that the borders separating us are superficial. It is now upon East Africans to accelerate the pace as the vision of the full integration is now within reach,” said Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

The protocol also enables the free movement of labour, services, capital, goods, people, as well as the right of establishment, right of residence, and the removal of internal taxes charged on goods and services entering from a foreign country.

Prohibitive taxes

The right of establishment means that an East African can set up a business in any member state without being subjected to the prohibitive taxes currently charged on foreigners while the right of residence means East Africans can live anywhere in the region.

Negotiations for the protocol started in April 2008.. Kenya’s East African Community Affairs minister Amason Kingi described the signing of the protocol as a “great achievement.”

Member states are now required to ratify the protocol through their individual mechanisms — mainly the Cabinet and Parliament — before it can come into force.

Rwanda’s EAC minister Monique Mukaruliza said the ratification would take a short time as her country was eager to reap the benefits of integration.

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