As presidents of the East African Community member states meet this weekend for the 21st Ordinary Summit of the EAC Head of States, all eyes are on Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta who is expected to name the next secretary-general, as Kenya takes over the rotational chair of the Community.
“It is the prerogative of the EAC Summit to appoint the next Secretary-General. It is Kenya’s turn but the Summit has the final say,” said Prof Manasseh Nshuti, chairperson of the Council of Ministers and Rwanda’s Minister of State in charge of EAC Affairs.
The identity of the next secretary-general is important because the position determines the working of the Secretariat and more or less the unity of the region, which has remained elusive recently. The current EAC Secretary General Liberat Mfumukeko’s five-year term comes to an end this March.
So what are the roles and characteristics of an ideal secretary-general? Both the EALA and the private sector have set the agenda for the next SG.
The position requires an individual who can broker peace among the EAC six partner states; raise funds to run the Secretariat; ensure faster and free movement of goods and services; and assure fairness and equitable staffing at the EAC Secretariat in Arusha for the health and vibrancy of the Community.
A section of East African Legislative Assembly members have suggested that the next SG must be a unifier and good fundraiser.
“The biggest problem which is crippling the EAC is the issue of unity and co-ordination of the organs and institutions and most importantly, the funding mechanism of the EAC,” said Denis Namara, chairperson of the parliamentary General Purpose Committee.
“I am excited when I hear a Kenyan will be the next secretary-general because he or she will be unifying. Kenya has good relations with all the EAC partner states. Our prayer is that the Summit will choose someone who has had some experience with EAC integration.”
Though much sought after, the SG is not a glamorous job. The next officeholder, sixth since the revival of the Community, will inherit empty coffers as some partner states have failed to remit their contributions in the past five years.
“How to raise resources to run the Secretariat is the biggest challenge for the Community. This is because our budget is $100 million but 60 percent of that money comes from donors, meaning even the money we contribute as partner states cannot sustain the Community,” said Mr Namara.
“So we need an SG who is going to convince the Head of States to come up with a sustainable funding mechanism to finance all bloc activities.”
The private sector wants the Summit to direct relevant government bodies to fasttrack the admission of the Democratic Republic of Congo into the EAC bloc.
“We want a bigger regional bloc. Let us include the DRC as part of the EAC with immediate effect. Let us prepare Somalia in terms of the structures,” said Dr Peter Mathuki, the chief executive of the East African Business Council.
End of NTBs
The EABC is also urging the Summit to embrace a co-ordinated approach in responding to Covid-19, adopt the EAC Open Skies Policy and come up with solutions to the persistent Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs).
“The most urgent item now is how do governments and the private sector work together to recover from Covid-19. That’s an immediate need, the recovery of our economies post- Covid-19,” said Dr Mathuki.
“Whoever is taking over the SG position has a lot of work to do. He or she must build back confidence and persuade development on what the agenda is.”
EAC is yet to discuss the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) that kicked off on January 1.
“The SG needs to immediately act on opportunities of the AfCFTA and how to package and position the bloc for quick returns,” said Dr Mathuki.
Grand plans to harmonise domestic taxes have been in limbo since 2012.
Total EAC exports have decreased by 4.7 percent to $14 billion in 2018 from $14.7 billion in 2017 of which intra-EAC exports accounted for 22.4 percent.
The trade deficit for the EAC region increased by 39.4 percent to $24.3 billion in 2018 from $17.4 billion registered in 2017 according to the EAC Trade and Investment Report, 2018.
“The Common External Tariff must be concluded now, so that we grow our manufacturing and intra EAC trade,” the private sector boss added.
Meanwhile, there has been intense lobbying for the position of SG in government corridors in Nairobi. Among the top aspirants and who are considered insiders having worked at the EAC Secretariat are former East African Legislative Assembly Abdirahin Abdi, former director general of Customs and Trade Peter Kiguta, and former deputy secretary general in charge of Political Federation Charles Njoroge. Another is current EALA MP and former chairperson of the parliamentary General Purpose Committee, Aden Abdikadir.
Also fronted for the seat are Mahboub M. Maalim, currently the chairperson of the Council of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. He is also a former executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad).
Those who have expressed interest in the seat include current Cabinet Administrative Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Ababu Namwamba. Political scientist and former co-secretary of the Building Bridges Initiative Adams Oloo is also said to be interested in the position.
However, by the time of going to press, it was still not clear, and there was a possibility too that President Kenyatta could go for the current Cabinet Secretary for East African Affairs Aden Mohamed or Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed.
This story was first published in The EastAfrican print version on February 27, 2021. On the same day, EAC appointed Dr Peter Mathuki as the new secretary-general at a virtual EAC Summit.