KIRUKU: A common market? First get leaders with a common purpose

KIRUKU: A common market? First get leaders with a common purpose

During the recent doctors’ strike in Kenya, the government came up with plans to hire doctors from Tanzania, Cuba and India in order to deal with the crisis. This move raised a lot of eyebrows among Kenyans on social media, many of whom were cluelessness on the protocols of the East African Community.

Again, a week ago chaos erupted on the Tanzania-Kenya border at Namanga after Tanzanian authorities ordered foreigners to be repatriated. Business was brought to a standstill at the border, and transport was paralysed due to protests. Kenyans retaliated by rounding up and frog-marching Tanzanians across the border into their country.

There have been complaints that EAC integration is state-owned and presidents-led. This fact cannot be far from the truth going by the foregoing couple of incidents. The anger and vitriol that was spewed by Kenyans on social media opposed to the Kenyan government’s plan to hire Tanzanian doctors and the violent eruption of chaos due to orders to repatriate Kenyans from Tanzania do not portray countries that are on a path to integration.

The ignorance of common citizens on the agreements signed by their leaders should be blamed on regional leaders, who sit in boardrooms and sign protocols without consulting their countrymen and women. Neither do they make efforts to inform and educate their citizens on the agreements reached.

Under the EAC Common Market Protocol that came into force in 2010 and which enables free movement of all factors of production, there is supposed to be free movement of persons, services, workers, goods, and capital. The right of establishment and residence in any other partner state is also enshrined in the protocol.

It is a shame that instead of implementing the protocols, leaders are issuing orders against the agreements. Citizens along the borders have lived harmoniously for decades and are inseparable. Intermarriages have occurred and cultures are intertwined; there cannot be a clear separation of persons along the borders. It is therefore insensitive of a leader to issue an order to repatriate persons living near the border.

It is unfortunate that the implementation of the Common Market Protocol has since its enactment faced myriad challenges, which now seem to be escalating. The unending non-tariff barriers hindering free movement of goods and persons are constantly evolving and mutating. The seemingly lack of goodwill from leaders to bring the menace to a stop is not helping matters.

Though tiny baby steps have been noted in the free movement of capital, restrictions on inward investment from other EAC countries are on the rise in all the partner states. With regard to the free movement of services, restrictions on the movement of professionals in different fields seems to be the greatest challenge.

One of the major hindrances to implementation of the Common Market is lack of harmony of EAC laws with those of individual partner states. Lack of harmony on administrative measures and regulatory rules across the EAC partner states has also been a major hindrance to its smooth implementation.

It is the duty of the leaders in individual partner states to ensure domestic laws are reformed to allow goods, persons and services to move freely. Even though some trade barriers have been removed, for instance, certificates of origin still remain a challenge to traders.

It is unfortunate that most of the goods facing non-tariff barriers are manufactured goods, foodstuffs, dairy products and alcoholic beverages – the sort of goods that can spur economic growth in the region.

The EAC partner states had agreed to harmonise the movement of professionals in accounting, legal and architecture services as required by the Common Market Protocol, but this has not been achieved.

Removing the hurdles that prevent full implementation of the Common Market Protocol is key to realizing economic growth in the region. Without its full implementation, the positive benefits all the other protocols become watered down.

Full implementation of the protocol is a significant step towards achieving the next milestone in the integration process.

It is paramount for our leaders to be proactive in ensuring that citizens are well guided on the benefits of the protocol on free movement of all means of production. Negative publicity perpetuated by the media and selfish political leaders on the protocol must stop if we are to reap its benefits.

Indeed, full implementation of the Common Market Protocol will lead to a wider range of goods and services and increased competition in an integrated East African market. People with skills will be able to sell their services, making the region more attractive to foreign investors. Allowing professionals to move across the six partner states will also reduce brain drain, to the benefit of the whole region.

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Story By Anne Kiruku
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