EAC integration is on course despite hurdles — sec gen

Peter Mathuki looks back at progress made in his first 100 days

In Summary

• In the last 100 days, Mathuki says he has focused on laying the groundwork of his vision while providing leadership at the Secretariat and EAC organs and institutions

• Calls for a coordinated approach among EAC partner states in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic

EAC secretary general Peter Mathuki during First 100 Days media briefing on August 11, 2021
EAC secretary general Peter Mathuki during First 100 Days media briefing on August 11, 2021

Trade within the East African Community has increased significantly over the past three months despite the ravages caused by Covid-19.

EAC secretary general Peter Mathuki said at the Namanga border post in particular, trade between Kenya and Tanzania has risen six-fold.

There is still room for improvement. Intra-EAC trade stands at less than 15 per cent compared to 70 per cent in the EU, he said, adding that the community would try to raise it over the next five years. 

Mathuki spoke during the Secretary General's First 100 Days Forum. It focused on the highlights, challenges and achievements since he assumed office on April 27. He said the 100 days' report is part of accountability to the people of East Africa. 

The Star's Eliud Kibii earlier sent in questions to the secretary general through the secretariat, which he responded to during the forum.

The Star: While it is still early to talk of accomplishments, in which areas do you feel you have laid a solid foundation?

Dr Peter Mathuki: In the last 100 days, I have focused on laying the groundwork of my vision for the community, while providing leadership at the secretariat and other EAC organs and institutions.

As I took over office, I committed to steering the community to the realisation of deeper levels of integration and the overall development of the bloc.

Some of the key areas I committed to prioritising were the admission process of the Democratic Republic of Congo; pushing for a conducive business environment by reducing Non-Tariff Barriers; supporting EAC organs and institutions to work in harmony and in coordination to realise the benefits enshrined in the EAC Treaty; and revitalising relations with development partners as well as resource mobilisation.

In the last 100 days, I have introduced consultative meetings with EAC partner states — heads of state and ministries responsible for East African Community Affairs; initiated the launch of the verification mission to the DRC, overseeing the verification and completion of the report; launched the EABC-EAC Technical Working Group to oversee monthly meetings; established an EAC Desk for civil society and interest groups; and revived a spirit of inter-organ relationships.

I have also unlocked staff recruitment and the process is now in full gear; unlocked the issue of Eala payment; overseen monthly consultative meetings with EAC institution; led the setting up of the East Africa Monetary Institute; and heightened resource mobilisation and renewing relations with development partners

Political federation is a key objective of the EAC regional integration. Is there hope this will happen any time soon?

It is the fourth pillar and already, we are discussing with partner states because we must sensitise the citizens of the respective member states: We must move along with the citizens of East Africa.

We have completed consultations with the republics of Burundi and Uganda, and we now have a programme that will go to Tanzania and of course Rwanda and other partner states.

But I must appreciate the political goodwill coming from the heads of state, who have gone ahead to commit more resources into this process. We look forward to its conclusion as it is part of the integration journey.

By when will DRC's admission to the EAC  be finalised, and what opportunities and challenges do you think its membership will bring to the EAC?

The population of DRC as we speak is close to 180 million people. DRC brings to the community more than 80 million. So, with its admission, the economic bloc will have a total population of close to 300 million.

That is a huge market for us and will make EAC competitive in the world. We are going to see people moving from DRC to the region and vice versa. So the entry of DRC will be a game-changer in as far as intra-regional trade in East Africa is concerned.

In 2018, for instance, the value of imported goods into the DRC stood at $7.4 billion. From this, the value of EAC exports to the DRC stood at $855.4 million only, which represents just 11.5 per cent of DRC imports. Consumables imports is about 31 per cent, I’d even say from China, and South Africa, which is about 16 per cent, while Zambia takes 15 per cent.

With DRC coming on board, this 11 per cent is likely to multiply by even four times to up to 50 per cent.

The final decision on the admission is by the Summit, but the technical committee has done a good job with the report. We thus look forward to having DRC on board soon.

In March 2012, Somalia's bid to join the EAC was rejected for “failing to meet the eligibility criteria”. What do they need to do?

A number of initiatives have been done. As the Secretariat, we have been following up with the government of Somalia on a number of issues concerning the admission. We have proposed a visit to Somalia to see how we can help them resolve some of the issues with the process. With that, we have been using their missions in the partner states to see the best time to meet and discuss.

We can confirm that that communication between ourselves and Somalia is happening and we are using all diplomatic channels and once they are ready in terms of all the departments that are relevant, we shall meet and see how to conclude that conversation. But again, both sides must be ready, but we are in touch so that we can ensure we bring them on board. 

Now that there is a shortage of Covid vaccines, does the community have a joint strategy to secure them?

Covid is a big challenge to the community, but we are happy to note that all partner states are in the programme in ensuring citizens access vaccines and also testing.

We also have a situation where we have gone ahead to propose that we need a special consultative meeting by the highest organ of the community [the Summit], where they will specifically discuss how to respond to Covid-19.

This is something we are consulting with the Council of Ministers on when we will hold a special extra-ordinary session by the CoM and Summit on how we can have a common facility in the region that will try and provide more vaccines because if only two per cent are covered, we need more vaccines.  

It will create confidence in what we are using and two, ensure as many citizens as possible take advantage of this. This needs awareness creating and confidence-building because we have seen some resistance from citizens on this.

Some partner states have already gone all out to put in place measures where even accessing offices, you need to have a Covid certificate. This is something we need to appreciate.

In any family set-up, there must be issues that emerge time and again. But the question is, is there political goodwill to resolve these issues? The answer is yes.
Peter Mathuki

Hostilities between member states have hurt trade. How are you solving these problems, most of them bilateral?

Let's look at the bigger picture and realise that the EAC is rated across the world as one of the fastest-growing regional economic blocs in Africa. And that is with the commitment of partner states to take the community to the next level.

And unlike other blocs, we have a common market, goodwill from the heads of state, a single ID, where in some partner states you can move from one country to another with a single ID, and this is going to happen in all partner states. That’s progress.

We have made efforts to make East Africa a single tourist destination by having a single tourist visa. Another area is the one-area network, where states have made a commitment to make the EAC a one-area network. We would also want to make it a one-area in education in terms of curriculum.

In any family set-up, there must be issues that emerge time and again. But the question is, is there political goodwill to resolve these issues? The answer is yes. Is the Secretariat involved in these processes to resolve these issues? Yes, we are involved, even in ensuring there is a seamless movement of goods across the region.  

The challenges will always be there so long as we are a community, but the issue is how we approach and resolve these challenges. Our job as the Secretariat is to devise ways and methods to ensure this is done. We are on course. 

Finally, what is the status of the comprehensive review of the EAC Common External Tariff and its uniform application in the bloc?

It is progressing well, that is what I would say. And the fact that partner states have agreed that there will be a fourth band and this is expanded from the earlier three-band, which was 0, 10 and 25 per cent. This is something that the CET team is canvassing and finding out how many tariffs can be concluded.

Out of 1,448 tariff rights proposed for a rate above 24 per cent, the partner states have agreed on 456 tariff rights, and the decision to finalise the review ought to have been concluded in June, but we expect by the end of the year to have this done and it will reinforce the resolution on Non-Tariff Barriers that hamper intra-EAC trade.

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