As the East African Community Common Market Protocol comes into force today, it brings with it new opportunities and challenges for us in Kenya and the region.
It is worth noting that this action is largely symbolic than practical. By symbolic, I mean that while the Protocol takes effect today, there are many issues which will need to be streamlined on the ground to capture its essence.
The core purpose of this integration is ‘to widen and deepen cooperation amongst partner states for economic and social benefits’. This can only happen if all member states ensure free entry of labour, goods, services, capital and also provide for the right of employment and establishment to the other members of the EAC. For example, there is need to harmonise our tax laws and remove non-tariff barriers to begin with, as a measure of uniformity and equity for all.
I want to reiterate the message given by the state that implementation of the Protocol will be a progressive rather than immediate affair. Do not expect that today you will be able to travel to any of the other countries and automatically carry out business. You will still need to undergo the rigorous process of registration and licensing until such requirements are synchronised.
As with any agreement, all parties are driven first by their own national interests before subscribing to the collective agenda. Bearing this in mind, I would urge Kenyans to be neither too trusting nor mistrusting of our partners. We must understand that our partners probably harbour the same if not greater reservations than we do, and in their quest for self-preservation, may move at a slower speed than we would expect.
I am of the opinion that implementing this protocol is the best thing that could happen for the East African people and their businesses.
As I have said previously, we will be creating a huge common market with a target population of 120 million people. In effect, we will have greater capacity to attract foreign investors and will hasten the pace of regional development as compared to, if each country were to go at it alone. Secondly, by becoming a unified voice, we are able to engage and negotiate with our Western and Asian counterparts for better trade agreements. Unified, we emerge a stronger unit that can take advantage of our synergies and use them to our advantage.
As a region, we have witnessed the benefits of integration before; way back in the 70’s when the community was alive. We know very well what went wrong and could start to point fingers at the slightest mishap. However, we know very well that the collective benefits far outweigh our individual pride and hope that sense will prevail.
Going forward, I hope that that we will not retreat into our past mistakes. That we will seek to promote equity amongst partner states and that each leader will be committed to the objective and vision of the protocol. The onus falls upon the respective heads of EAC member countries, to employ persuasive rather than coercive tactics in ensuring the implementation of the protocol. We would rather have slow but steady integration steps, rather than leave our neighbours behind. This is the only way we can ensure progression to the next milestones, of a monetary union and a political federation.
On the ground, there is need for all governments to offer massive sensitization campaigns to their officers and trainers mandated with the implementation of this process. East Africans want to feel they are respected and welcome across the borders….that is all.
The implementation process, if managed with due care and respect of all citizens, has the potential to restore the glory of the East African Community rather than tear us apart.
On a different note, let me take this opportunity to wish the Prime Minister a quick recovery. As a principal partner in the grand coalition, we recognise your valuable input in ensuring the preservation of our country and its citizens, and pray that God restores your health so that you can continue with your national, regional and international duties.