When I took over the office of the Secretary General of the East African Community in April 2021, I had an opportunity to travel across the region, engaging with the governments of the partner states, the business community and other interest groups to understand their expectations and aspirations of the regional integration agenda.
It was clear that the people desired an inclusive, equitable, and responsive integration process that addresses daily needs and also a sense of ownership of the community. While reflecting and acknowledging the progress made, it became evident that there was a need to create a sense of urgency in steering the regional integration agenda in a more people-centric approach.
I felt a deep sense of frustration and a desire from the citizens to resolve their issues and take the Community closer to them, particularly as the partner states implement Covid-19 recovery efforts. These engagements and insights have shaped my priorities and determination as I roll up my sleeves to get the job done.
The EAC has evolved over the years to become Africa’s most integrated bloc. We have made significant progress in implementing the Customs Union and the Common Market to facilitate free movement of people, goods, services and integrate our trade and infrastructure. The economic growth after the reduction of barriers has been impressive.
The Community has achieved significant milestones in facilitating the free movement of goods, persons, labour, services, and capital across our borders. Our one-stop border posts and integrated border management systems have proved to be some of our most strategic investments, reducing the time and cost of trading across borders.
The inclusion of national identity cards as travel documents has increased the movement of people and trade, while the single tourist visa has boosted opportunities for collaboration between tourism players, extending stay in the region.
Partner states are working to reduce telecommunication costs through harmonising tariffs and eliminating roaming charges through the One Network Area initiative. In anticipation of trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area, the secretariat plays a critical role in negotiations.
To grow EAC’s intra-regional trade, which currently stands at less than 20 percent of total trade, we must take bold steps to undertake deeper reforms, domesticate national laws, regulations, and administrative guidelines to reflect the aspirations of EAC integration pillars and protocols.
The region could benefit from the removal of all tariff equivalent measures and charges arising from the non-recognition of Rules of Origin certificates to increase trade and create jobs.
The Covid-19 pandemic presents significant challenges for the region’s recovery, as it depends on global and regional supply chains to support critical sectors. It is clear that there will be no broad-based recovery without an end to the health crisis. Partner states should therefore prioritise vaccination and embrace the mutual recognition of Covid-negative and vaccination certificates.
Aware that peace is a critical component of EAC’s development and sustaining a healthy business environment essential for growth, the Community is strengthening interaction and collaboration with the United Nations and intergovernmental authorities at regional and national levels.
So, finally, and being cognisant of the current economic, health, security, and climate change issues, I commit to providing strategic leadership and taking the necessary steps to address the region’s most pressing challenges for the benefit of our people.
I call upon the people of East Africa to come with me on this journey, as it is our collective responsibility to make the EAC work.
Dr Peter Mathuki is the Secretary-General of the East African Community