KIRUKU: East Africans want deeper social intercourse: give it to them
By Anne Kiruku, East African News Agency
At long last, efforts by pro-integration advocates to make the regional agenda less Presidents-led and more people-driven seem to have borne fruit, at least, going by the flurry of activity in the fields of education, sports and culture.
The yearly inter-university debate on regional integration held at the International University of East Africa campus in Kasanga, Kampala, attracted students from across the region. This is a key event that perhaps deserves greater support in order to engage more universities across the region.
The recent sports and cultural festivals held at Cyanika town on the border of Rwanda and Uganda should be seen in the same light; the event should be duplicated in all border towns across the region in order to reach more citizens.
The festivals, which are meant to promote cross-border interaction and community engagement in East African Community affairs, are important forums for educating citizens on the benefits and privileges available to them under the EAC.
The events should be used to share cultural experiences between different communities so as to encourage bonding and acceptance of one another.
By and large, the common person has been relegated to the back burner as far as the gains, vision and mission of the EAC are concerned. In this regard, it is a shame that EAC Day –which is celebrated on November 30th – passed with hardly anyone noticing.
This is in sharp contrast to the pomp, funfair and colour that usually accompanies national days in the partner states.
This was a clear indication of the need for a greater sense of urgency and commitment to bring the region together under one political federation.
This is not to underestimate the gains made by the EAC integration process. No doubt, cross-border trade has been sharply accelerated, the continuing annoyance of non-tariff barriers notwithstanding.
The movement of goods, labour, capital and services across the region has become increasingly seamless, thanks to the signing and operationalization of the Common Market Protocol.
Customs duties and other charges of equivalent effect imposed on imports have been eliminated, while a common external tariff in respect of all goods imported into the partner states from foreign countries has been established. Thanks to the signing and implementation of the Custom Union Protocol.
All these moves have accelerated production within the region and liberalised intra-regional trade. Domestic, cross-border and foreign investment in the community has been enhanced, too. Economic development and diversification in industrialization have benefited.
The single tourist visa, which allows cross-border movement of tourists in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, has boosted the tourism sector. This is a sector that has faced numerous challenges in the recent past, and nearly collapsed due to the threat of terrorism. Hopefully, Tanzania and Burundi will soon join the single tourist visa regime.
In education, harmonisation efforts at higher levels of learning have opened up university education. Students can pursue courses of their choice from any of the accredited universities in the region.
These accrued benefits should be made known to all persons of all walks of life regardless of age, sexual orientation, geographical location or educational level. The youth should be brought on board and made to feel a part of the process of uniting East Africans.
Women in business should also be educated on the benefits of regional integration and how to take advantage of these so as to boost their businesses. Many of them, sadly, are still in the dark.
But despite all the gains that integration has brought, huge challenges that need urgent attention remain.
The non-tariff barriers that are hurting cross-border trade must be dealt with. Regional leaders should be sincere while dealing with this vice. It is hypocritical to play some cards while hiding others below the table.
It is unfortunate that the face of NTBs keeps changing with time. As some are eliminated, others evolve and mushroom. This is seriously hurting the movement of goods, capital, labour and services across the five partner states. National and regional legal structures should be put in place to monitor and curb NTBs, with the public and private sectors being brought on board.
The lack of a Single Customs Territory, despite having the protocol in place, is a set-back whose resolution should be prioritised in the coming year. Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and Export Processing Zones (EPZs) that mainly exist on paper should be operationalized and their benefits made to assist surrounding communities.
The delayed adoption of the EAC Industrialisation Policy and Strategy, and the long overdue EAC Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Protocol, should also be prioritized in 2016.
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