Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
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.
Three African trading blocs comprising some 527 million people and with an estimated gross domestic product of $624 billion, have agreed to move towards a free trade area. It would span 26 countries from Egypt to South Africa, and would go a long way towards streamlining some of the continent’s numerous trading blocs. Africa is home to some 30 regional trade arrangements, and on average each nation belongs to about four groups, according to international financial institutions. This has led to conflicting and overlapping agreements.
So in a move to ease some of these issues, heads of state who chair the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), met in the Ugandan capital to draw up a pact on integration, and eventually hoping to have a unified customs union. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said at the meeting’s opening that: “The greatest enemy of Africa, the greatest source of weakness has been disunity and a low level of political and economic integration.” The meeting’s final communiqué said a timeframe for integration would be considered in one year. Rwandan President Paul Kagame cautioned delegates that African nations must make sure to enforce the protocols and treaties that they’ve adopted. Heads of state at the meeting stressed the need to create economies of scale, bigger markets equal more opportunities to grow, they said.