Kenya’s High Commissioner to Uganda Kiema Kilonzo speaks on interconnectivity of infrastructure and markets in the region and residents’ role in making the integration goal realisable.
How would you describe the state of integration between the East African Community member states?
There are positive strides in one way, but it is like we move two steps forward and then stagnate. It is calibrated movement. We have not had a summit in the recent past but we are optimistic we shall achieve it.
Of the four pillars of the EAC, we have been able to set up a Common Market, Customs Union and now we are talking about the common monitoring mechanism, even though that has been postponed.
There is already a committee looking at political federation for which a draft is ready. We see internal challenges like issues with the formation of the government in South Sudan; the frosty relations between Uganda and Rwanda and hope trade will resume soon as the border opens.
Does it surprise you that the community is unable to solve its own conflicts?
On the issue of Uganda and Rwanda, we have relied on Angola President Joao Lourenco and DR Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi even though President Uhuru Kenyatta was the first to step in. The neighbours have an issue over their common border but agreed to the mediation by Angola and the DR Congo.
Yes, East Africa has mechanisms for such arbitration that should be strengthened to rule out the need for third parties when there are disputes between member states.
Would you say the same about Burundi?
Exactly! It looks like we need to do more as East Africans to take charge of our issues when member states have issues to resolve.
The leaders of the different EAC economic bloc are overseeing ambitious joint infrastructural projects that now seem to be stagnating for several reasons.
Discussions between Uganda, Kenya and Exim bank are ongoing to see that the SGR is complete. What stage is the engagement at?
Both President Uhuru and President Yoweri Museveni have been very keen to see that the SGR goes all the way firstly to Kisumu. Kenya has pushed it to Naivasha where they have even earmarked spaces for Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan for inland container depots.
Uganda has 20 acres to establish their own dry port to process their own goods.
The segment being discussed is the Naivasha-Kisumu one. Kenya is at an advanced stage of negotiations. And the last time President Museveni made a state visit to China, he was accompanied by Kenya's Minister for Transport.
This implies Kenya and Uganda are working together on the SGR going by the high level political goodwill by both parties to ensure that the Naivasha-Malaba-Kampala section is completed as soon as possible.
We want to first get to Kisumu from where we plan to use the Lake Victoria waterway.
What is the state of our politics? Is the region moving in tandem?
While Germans like football and Americans love handball, Kenyans' national sport is politics. Indeed, there is almost no news bulletin devoid of politics. The region has immersed itself in politics at the expense of development. We need people to balance politics and developmental activity because at the end of the day no one eats politics.
What is the trade situation between Uganda and Kenya?
Kenya has bounced back to be the biggest economy in the region from Ethiopia. From the figures last year, the balance of trade favoured Uganda but this time, it appears to favour Kenya.
The reason behind this is the strengthening of bilateral ties led by the heads of state and their state visits.
The deepening regional integration of the EAC that has seen a review of policies and regulations affecting trade by entrenching non-tariff barriers.
For example we revised the amount of sugar Uganda can export to Kenya from 30,000 tonnes to 90,000 tonnes. For almost ten years Uganda could not export meat to Kenya because of the alleged mad cow disease but that ban has since been lifted.
Now more Kenyan companies are engaging the Ugandan market. Last year, 433 Kenyan companies operated in Uganda.
Kenya has also lifted the ban on export of poultry and poultry products. Ugandan milk can get into Kenya, apart from specific cases like that of Lato milk. It is really a win-win situation.
What is the problem with Lato milk and what was agreed?
We agreed that all milk originating from within the EAC does not incur any duty.
However, should a Kenyan company import milk from, say Brazil and wants to sell it in Uganda, there will be duty to be incurred.
And what was Kenya’s problem with Ugandan maize?
Kenya is a major market, but two years ago, we ordered maize and it didn’t meet our standards. We received an inquiry from the Kenya government to import 250,000 tonnes from here but Uganda did not have that quantity of maize since all their produce was to be shipped to Zimbabwe. The biggest challenge regarding maize is post-harvest handling and has to do with moisture content and the build-up of aflatoxins.
Would you support a political federation or confederation?
A confederation. Because I am a realist and I know the egos we all nurse. In 1963 when (at) the first Organisation of African Unity meeting when Ghana's President Kwame Nkuruma suggested a United States of Africa, Tanzania's President Julius Nyerere was advocating for regional blocks. And so it is today. I do not see Ugandans surrendering their sovereignty to Kenya or Kenyans surrendering their sovereignty to Tanzania or vice versa.