KIRUKU: Will opening up of Holili border post speed up regional integration?

KIRUKU: Will opening up of Holili border post speed up regional integration?

By Anne Kiruku­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­, Arusha, Tanzania

The opening of the Holili/Taveta One-Stop Border Post, a testament of the enormous investment the region is making in regional integration initiatives, will need to be accompanied by a thorough determination in dealing with associated challenges.

The construction of more than a dozen similar border posts is a great leap towards realization of East Africa’s dream of One People, One destiny – a dream that ever so often seems distant given the roadblocks of official intransigence driven especially by parochial nationalistic sentiments.

The new border post, like all the others, will now ease the movement of goods and people across borders. This will in turn boost trade by facilitating faster clearance of cargo and travelers. There will be a significant reduction in transport costs as well, all due to the more effective border control mechanisms being put in place.

The border post will also ensure greater sharing of social and cultural norms by the communities living on either side of the Kenya-Tanzania border, a crucial factor in fostering faster integration.  It will also create synergy and unity of purpose for the people of the border communities of the two countries.

This noble initiative, however, must be accompanied by a determination to deal decisively with the enormous challenges that are threatening to dim the light of the East African Community regional integration agenda.

Of particular concern is the menace of non-tariff barriers (NTBs), which is constantly threatening to rip the integration agenda apart. businesspersons across the region – who have perhaps felt the heat of these NTBs more than any other group – have actively and persistently complained about this matter. Sadly, regional governments have shown little to no commitment in dealing conclusively with the problem.

These obstacles to trade remain a big challenge on the economic front. Regional leaders must realize that the economies of the partner states are wholly intertwined and interdependent. Economic man oeuvres to try and outdo each other only end up hurting the overall economic development of the region. The best approach to work together to reduce official red-tape and reap the benefits of collaboration.

Barriers to trade have been mutative in nature. It takes commitment, determination, zeal, legal backing and utmost good faith to tackle this problem once and for all.

The impact of NTBs on intra-EAC trade flows is serious and real. They stifle trade, depress returns on investment, and add extra costs to goods traded across our borders.

Every country must now not just to give lip-service and make empty promises on NTBs, but show real commitment in continuing to work with other partner states to strengthen regional mechanisms geared towards total elimination of NTBs. This should be done with a view to making the Community more competitive and promoting intra-regional trade.

It is a shame that most border posts and other major infrastructural development projects are being financed by development partners. Fifty-odd years after independence from the colonial powers, regional governments should wean themselves from donor reliance. Budgetary constraints have been cited as one of the main factors impeding faster development of border posts and other projects, yet the wastage of resources in all these countries is simply mindboggling.

For example, Kenya faced criticism for delaying the development of the just-opened Holili/Taveta border post due to a delay in signing a bilateral agreement with Tanzania. The construction of the Holili border post was completed in December 2014 on the Tanzania side, but the $5.7 million structure remained idle for several months due to delays on the part of Kenya.

The high capital cost for infrastructure development is often engineered by corruption in the tendering process and over-taxation of building materials. Corruption is now a malignant tumor that is devouring every sector of the region’s economies, raising significantly the costs of living and of doing business. Unless a total cultural change is cultivated, the region could well remain in total poverty due to this factor alone. 

Still, the region must contend with fluctuations of foreign currencies, issues of taxation, and a huge development and maintenance backlog. All these have a serious impact on the regional development, including the establishment and efficient operation of border posts.

But for the border posts to be fully helpful, we must also deal with challenges such as the encroachment and vandalism of road infrastructure, insecurity, and theft of goods in transit. Corruption at these border posts, needless to say, has defied any solution this far.

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