MATHUKI: Regional integration is about people and inclusivity

Wednesday March 10 2021
Peter Mathuki.

Incoming EAC Secretary General Peter Mathuki at an interview in Nairobi on March 2,2021. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL


Peter Mathuki, the chief executive of the East African Business Council, who is the incoming secretary general of the East African Community, spoke with Luke Anami on his early engagement with the EAC and aspirations for the bloc.

What are your aspirations as the sixth Secretary General?

To follow the spirit of the EAC Treaty that says it is people-centred. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta recently said that we should be aware that regional integration is private sector-led. Therefore, it is important that we involve the private sector and other sectors. The principle is to have inclusivity because integration is about people, all stakeholders.

At what stage do you envisage the Customs and CMP should be at in 2021?


We must appreciate that partner states are at different levels of economic development. And that there have been challenges to having a fully-fledged Customs Union.

One of the challenges is an agreed Common External Tariff, which has been under review for the past four or five years. My target is that we focus on this and conclude it for the purpose of promoting local industries and products.

Number two is to ensure that the Common Market is also functioning. We should be having a uniform travel document such as an ID across all countries. But let’s also appreciate that we already have a common passport and a common tourist visa for example. I look forward to even deepening them further so that they are applied in all the partner states.

How did you get involved with the East African Community?

It was during the negotiations for the Common Market Protocol. I was seconded to be part of the High Level Task Force under the labour institutions. I moved to Arusha that year to support the labour institutions in the EAC and support the Secretariat in drafting the Common Market Protocol. I worked in this role until 2008.

At the time, I was the director in charge of International Labour Standards at the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. I worked closely with the labour tripartite partners, including the Central Organisations of Trade Unions in Kenya, NOTU in Uganda, TUKTA in Tanzania and FKE in Kenya.

Later, I joined the European Union programmes for Africa based in Asmara, Eritrea. In 2010, I was on a special assignment to build capacity for labour organisations in the EAC. I was in Asmara for two years before coming back to Kenya.

In 2012, I applied for the position of member of parliament for Kenya at the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala).


What was your experience as an Eala MP?

I served from 2012 to 2017, and I was on two committees. First, I chaired the Eala Legal Committee, which was responsible for good governance, and later I served on the Committee of Trade and Investment. I was impatient to see the Common Market Protocol work and get implemented. The challenge was making laws that would support the protocol and the other pillars of the EAC integration.

I was the only non-lawyer on the committee of Legal Affairs, where I served with the current speaker of Eala Martin Ngoga. We had three main tasks. To follow up on the implementation of Heads of State Summit decisions, the implementation of the Council of Ministers decisions, and to track the level of implementation of the Customs Union and Common Market.

What was it like to fast-track laws at Eala in the implementation of both the Customs Union and the CMP in 2012?

There was a lot of excitement and willingness from partner states to support implementation of the two protocols.

One of things I proposed at that time was the rotational sitting of MPs, so that the Eala members could hold sessions in each partner state. This was to create awareness of the role and functions of the regional Assembly, and to interact with different stakeholders. Both were a success. We also created a committee to track the implementation of the protocols.

When did you join the private sector and what motivated you to do so?

While at Eala, I monitored the role of the private sector because I was a member of the committee on Trade and Investment. I realised that the sector was not highly visible or active. I started supporting the East African Business Council (EABC) as a goodwill ambassador while I was still at the Assembly.

I left Eala in 2017 after my term ended and joined the EABC in 2018 as the chief executive. My brief was to help the private sector strengthen their umbrella body.

I have held that role to date, until this appointment.

What are some of your achievements as CEO at the business council?

We ensured the visibility of the private sector in influencing and advocating for policy in the region.

We worked with development partners and donors to build a strong public sector dialogue bringing governments and private sector together, to chart a way of eliminating non-tariff barriers and to negotiate the Common External Tariff.

Then we were hit by new challenges presented by Covid-19 in 2020.I visited every border point to advocate for and talk to our leaders about the need to work together, as private sector and the government, so that we could recover from the effects of the pandemic.

Peter Mathuki holds a PhD in Strategic Management & Regional Integration from the University of Nairobi, Kenya.

He’s an expert in regional integration and has served in several regional organisations. He was instrumental in the negotiation of the EAC Common Market Protocol, and in various regional economic issues since 2004.

He served as a MP of the East African Legislative Assembly.

He is the CEO of the East African Business Council and incoming EAC Secretary General.