The EAC Secretary-General Peter Mathuki outlines to Jackson Mutinda on his plans for the Community.
What keeps you awake at night as the EAC Secretary-General?
I don’t sleep. It’s not easy. Looking at the issues facing the Community; I am always on my toes. And now we have an extra mandate of ensuring peace and security in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’m the one who signed the Sofa – the status of forces agreement – meaning I am the one responsible for those people, and will be asked if things don’t work out.
My vision is to see the EAC become the most integrated regional economic bloc in the world, because it is already the most integrated on the African continent.
Second is to push the agenda of borderless Africa. We have to have open the skies and travel cheaply within the region. We need to see Kenya Airways, RwandAir, Uganda Airlines and Air Tanzania working together to lower the cost of air transport so that people can move more goods. Governments also need to lower the landing rates.
The other issue is communication – the one network area. Tanzania has written to us and confirmed that they’re going to join the one area network in a phased manner.
What are your plans for the next two years?
There’s something that happened recently that was quite historic. President Samia Suluhu granted the EAC 125 acres in Arusha for development, and nothing better shows Tanzania’s commitment to regional integration. I challenge the other partner states to demonstrate their support with such gestures.
Now that I have the title deed, I will rally partner states to develop a Community city that will accommodate everyone.
Importantly, we are commencing institutional review to move from being a secretariat to a commission. We have come of age. A secretariat is limited in terms of mandate.
Somalia is at advanced stages of joining the Community. What makes it attractive despite its myriad political and security problems?
This was a decision of the heads of state, and I can tell you it'll come with benefits. Somalia has a 3,000km coastline – the longest in Africa. Combine that with Kenya’s 1,400km and Tanzania’s and you have a 5,000km coastline. This means that the cost of transporting goods will become cheaper because there will be a bigger marine service line. We'll deal with insecurity once it joins the Community.
It will be regulated by the instruments we have. In fact, it's more dangerous for Somalia to be out there. They're not an EAC member, therefore we have no mandate to deal with their security issues. If we go to the Security Council and ask for resources they will listen to us but if Mogadishu goes on its own, they’ll probably not listen to them.
After Somalia, the other country we should be thinking about is Ethiopia. If we admit Ethiopia, the EAC market will be more than 500 million people. Nobody will talk matters markets and security without talking about East Africa, and that’s a conversation we have started.
There is scepticism about Somalia because of how DRC has turned out.
For DRC, we allowed them to join aware of their issues so that we could be part of the solution. Security issues are never permanent, they'll be resolved. But what will be permanent are the benefits.
DRC is a game-changer.
It has brought in close to 100 million people into the population of East Africa. But it has also connected the Atlantic Ocean with the Indian Ocean, so that new corridor becomes critical to supporting the movement of goods. The inclusion of DRC remains one of the best decisions the heads of states have made. It has changed the global dynamics – how people perceive East Africa. When the UN Security Council is seated, when the African Union is seated, there’s an agenda about East Africa. And this is something we need to appreciate.
Does the EAC have the capacity to manufacture enough goods for a 300-million-people market?
Yes. We have worked on the Common External Tariff to encourage local manufacturing so that now we can produce enough for the market. The fourth band of 35 percent was basically to protect local manufacturers so that we can produce East African goods. This was informed by what we learned from Covid. The pandemic came and interrupted global supply chains so much that some of the basic things we used take for granted, like personal protective equipment, became critical. We hadn’t imagined that one day an ordinary person would need to put on a mask.
The export processing zones in all the countries turned from producing clothes for export to producing PPE. We have brought mechanisms that facilitate local manufacturing and support.
Let’s talk about EAC jobs. There have been queries about equity in distribution of jobs, institutions and projects.
When we came in, the issue of recruitment had become a nightmare: The Community had not recruited for close to five years. Now, we have started the recruitment process without any hindrances. We have started a transparent system. Whenever recruitment is being done all partner states are represented. We have the quota points: Each country gets its quota.
Last year South Sudan and Burundi owed $40 million in contributions, how are you funding programmes?
We have seen a marked improvement in how members contribute to the Community. Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda have given 100 percent of their contributions for the fiscal years 2021 and 2022. Even South Sudan has given $15 million, so what’s pending is for this financial year and we are still engaging them to pay up. We hope that partners will continue cooperating.
Are you looking for other sources of funding?
When we came in, donors had almost lost confidence in the Community because they could not see commitment of the partner states. But when they started dutifully paying their contributions the donors resumed funding. Now, 60 percent of the budget at the community is from development partners, in direct and indirect funding.
Do you support President William Ruto’s view that the EAC Treaty needs to be reviewed, and how would that be done?
I am happy that Dr Ruto came out and added his voice to Tanzania’s Samia Suluhu Hassan. The Treaty needs to be expanded. For example, the Treaty recognises English as the working language, but we have since added Kiswahili and French and it needs to add sign language to promote inclusivity. The call by Dr Ruto is timely.
But there are many other things that need to be added to give the Community gravitas it needs. I have invited the Sectoral Council on Legal and Constitutional Affairs and the attorneys-general to sit down and relook at the Treaty to reflect what’s happening in the Community.
What’s the state of inter-agency relations in the EAC?
When I came in the Assembly and the Court were not living in harmony. I engaged the Speaker and the EACJ President and the relations have improved. We are now a team.
So then, what do you say about their push for financial and administrative autonomy?
We are undergoing institutional transformation to see how we can change the secretariat into a commission –the way it is with the AU and the other economic blocs. At the EAC we must push an agenda that promotes the interests of all partners and, therefore, we must be seen to operate within the spirit of the Treaty, which is about consensus. Eala and EACJ can be given semi-autonomy and if they have to get autonomy let it be in a phased way.