African business, politics and lifestyle
Will EAC’s common market deal work?
For telecoms-tycoon-turned-philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, it’s one step forward, two steps back. For Benno Ndullu, governor of the central Bank of Tanzania, the whole thing is bound to stall unless problems are ironed out first.
For many Tanzanians, it’s a threat to their jobs, language and prospects.
But for the leaders of the five-member East African Community (EAC), signing the common market protocol on Friday represents the future fortunes of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda combined.
Signing the document — the culmination of a relatively speedy 18 months of negotiation — will mean goods, services and the community’s 126 million people can move freely across their borders, in theory at least.
Together, the five countries muster $60 billion in gross domestic product combined, and believe they can prosper better as one unit than apart.
Already they have a customs union, but by 2012 they foresee sharing a single currency and finally political federation.
“If you don’t get the economic integration process going in Africa you’re dead,” Tim Clarke, head of delegation at the European Commission in Tanzania, told the Mo Ibrahim Foundation meeting on good governance last weekend.
There are plenty of creases to be ironed out, however — whether Rwandans should switch the side of the road they drive on to match up with the region or whether home-made goods are prepared to fight it out against cheaper imports unencumbered by import duties.
Sometimes described as a bowl of spaghetti, many countries belong to overlapping regional economic communities, which makes negotiating as a single bloc tricky.
Other contentious issues include land ownership, common external tariffs, travel documents and protection of ill-prepared local manufacturers and workers.
For EAC Secretary General, Ambassador Juma Mwapachu, who is also a Tanzanian citizen, it is important to overcome what he calls “this zero-sum mindset that these people are coming to take our jobs”.
“The common market is going to send another right signal to the region in terms of enticing investors,” he told the Mo Ibrahim Foundation at the weekend.
Some think the countries are nevertheless overambitious in their timescale, while also being slowed down by lengthy protocol: among their planning duties, heads of state mulled “a report on the finalisation of the development of the EAC Anthem”.
But as they promote cultural cohesion with EAC football, a new EAC headquarters and yes, the new anthem, many are hoping to put the previous failure of the EAC — which ran for ten years until it was dissolved amid rancour in 1977 — far behind them.
Will it work this time?