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EAC Trade: New Chief's Approach Restoring Hope in Integration Process

Dr Peter Mutuku Mathuki takes over a secretariat that is facing challenges ranging from financial shortages as many countries were not up-to-date in their remittances. “Even where countries had issues with either one another or with the secretariat, Richard Sezibera would personally reach out to them and encourage them to pay,” said EALA member, Fred Mukasa Mbidde, of the former SG.
SG Mathuki ready to boost intra-regional trade


The new East African Community Secretary General’s trips around the region are bringing hope to the skeptical, that the integration process can work better. 

   Dr Peter Mutuku Mathuki takes over a secretariat that is facing challenges ranging from financial shortages as many countries were not up-to-date in their remittances.

By June 2020, the bloc was owed $15 million by Burundi as arrears for two years, while South Sudan owed $20.8 million. 

  

The other countries had arrears ranging from $1.6 to $4.2 million, with only Kenya having cleared its dues.

  

The former Secretary General, Amb Libérat Mfumukeko said cash limitations due to delayed remittances by partner states, was one of the major challenges to progress during his tenure. 

But experts and EA Legislative Assembly members who worked with him, accused the Burundian diplomat of not doing enough to reach out to the leaders of the countries. 

“Even where countries had issues with either one another or with the secretariat, Richard Sezibera would personally reach out to them and encourage them to pay,” said EALA member, Fred Mukasa Mbidde, of the former SG. 

Dr Mathuki seems to be determined to mitigate the stagnation and decline under Mfumukeko, by engaging the leaders personally. 

    He has toured virtually all the partner states of the region since taking over office barely a month ago, to acquaint himself with the challenges, and how other organs and institutions are performing, according to the EAC Secretariat. 

The first phase of his tour at the beginning of May involved the visits to the EAC Institutions in Uganda and Rwanda, including the Inter University Council of East Africa in Kampala and the Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency at Entebbe, as well as the EA Science and Technology Commission in Kigali. 

The other institutions include the East African Health Research Commission in Bujumbura, Burundi, the Lake Victoria Basin Commission in Kisumu, Kenya, The East African Kiswahili Commission in Zanzibar and Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization in Jinja, Uganda. 

On his state visit to South Sudan last week, Dr Mathuki noted that it is the only country that does not host any EAC institution, saying that he has initiated a process for the country to host one. 

He also revealed that the process is already on for the secretariat to fill the 49 vacant technical positions, calling on the South Sudanese to apply for them. 

Mathuki says if more people from S. Sudan take up positions at the EAC, the citizens will start feeling more part of the bloc. 

He also told President Salva Kiir to support efforts for his citizens to apply for the EAC Scholarships mainly for IT studies. 

Mathuki is also introducing a method of encouraging neighbouring partner states to amicably resolve any issues between themselves before the EAC mechanisms are employed. 

  

Some of the centres of contention include the restrictions some countries impose on the citizens of others that intend to cross borders.   

Cross-border trade has also faced challenges with countries blocking the goods of others, largely in violation of the EAC integration protocols. 

  

Dr Mathuki says the discussions on the movement restrictions as well as the work permits for East Africans will soon be concluded and the people will be free to move from one country to another.   

He said he does not see why, if all countries issue national IDs for their citizens, there cannot be free movement across borders, even before the other region-wide measures are effected.  

One of his commitments is the reduction of non-tariff barriers to increase intra-regional trade from the current level of below 20% to more than 50%.

“I pledge to work hand in hand with all stakeholders in private and public sector to make sure that we remove NTBs in real time," says the Secretary General. "It cannot be business as usual but rather a need for unity of purpose – working collectively between private and public sector as a team to serve the great people of East Africa.”

 The former minister of state for EAC Affairs Julius Maganda says harmonization of laws and processes has taken long because of the changing needs, the process has taken longer.

  

But he adds that much as dozens of NTBs have been removed over time, the governments keep of creating new ones, thus affecting trade.  

The Private Sector Foundation Uganda Chief Executive, says the amendments to the EAC Elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers Act, 2017 would do a lot in controlling NTBs, but that the process has never been completed.  

He also calls for the enforcement of the Dispute Resolution Mechanism by the operationalizing the EAC Trade Remedies Committee.     

On his visit to the Tanzania-Kenya border, Mathuki’s task was to follow up and enforce the agreement earlier made by the heads of state of the two countries that trade and cross-border movement be normalized.

  

He expressed disappointment that the trucks were still moving too slowly due to the barriers between the countries.  

Small traders however say Tanzanian authorities still levy charges on the goods from Kenya, but are hopeful that the Secretary General’s approach of hands-on leadership will go a long way in resolving the challenges.  

 

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