, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 29 – For thousands of years, the people who make up East Africa have travelled, traded, intermarried and governed themselves according the dictates of their time.
As the combined total of nearly 122 million citizens of the five East African Community (EAC) partner states of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi move progressively closer towards economic, social and political integration, the strategic shifts in the 2009/2010 budgets leave no doubts about where government priorities lie.
In redefining their vision for the region, governments can hope to recapture the imaginative, creative and entrepreneurial spirit of their citizenry if only they will live up to their promise to create an enabling environment for long-term economic growth, prosperity, social cohesion and political stability.
The EAC budgets give priority to programmes aimed at stimulating economic activities including infrastructure development and public works to stimulate economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction for citizens. It also serves as a mandate to facilitate and coordinate Kenya’s integration into the EAC.
Speaking at a post-budget media briefing last week, the Kenyan Minister of the East African Community (MEAC), Mr Amason Kingi said the Sh140 billion budget allocation would be spent on infrastructure improvements in Kenya with positive consequences for the development of hinterland countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Southern Sudan.
Noting that the budget would act as a stimulus for the economy, the minister added: "The increased expenditure on infrastructure is expected not only to put the EAC region on a higher growth path, but will also improve the conditions of doing business."
To this end, the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, which also serves as a regional hub for air transport, is being expanded and refurbished even as the port of Mombasa is modernised and the Kenya-Uganda railway line is targeted for rebuilding side-by-side with large investments in the expansion and improvement of road networks.
These developments align the EAC region with opportunities for trade in a greatly expanded market.
According to the Ministry of the East African Community (MEAC), the value of Kenya’s exports to the EAC increased from Sh53.1 billion in 2006 to Sh83.9 billion in 2008. In comparison, the value of imports from the EAC countries over the same period was Sh6.1 billion and Sh12.6 billion respectively.
The Permanent Secretary in the MEAC, Mr David Nalo, pointed out that his ministry would pursue the opening up regional integration centres at all border posts – to ensure that the focus was moved away from the various bottlenecks encountered by citizens interacting with contradictory policies and practices towards activities that were in tandem with easing integration at all levels.
The integration of the EAC is hinged on the four pillars of the customs union; a common market; monetary union and political union.
However, Minister Kingi noted that the EAC integration had faced challenges from the global economic meltdown, the effects of climate change on the economy and well-being of citizens as well as the high levels of poverty and unemployment impacting negatively on the growth prospects of the region.
For instance, Kenya recorded a GDP growth of only 1.7 percent in 2008 compared to growth rates of 9.8 percent for Uganda and 7.5 percent for Tanzania – despite there being tremendous opportunities for Kenya in the regional markets.
If the integration agenda is envisioned to be a people-driven process, this means that East Africans can expect a more streamlined approach to the movement of people, goods and services and a better climate for cross-border trade and commerce.
The broad areas of cooperation outlined in the EAC Treaty fall into the broad categories of the economic and trade sector; the social sector which includes health, culture, HIV/AIDS, science, technology and education; the productive sector covering infrastructure development and agriculture; political and interstate security and administrative matters of the EAC.