Admitting DR Congo on agenda for next summit, says EAC secretary general

Sunday December 8 2019

EAC Secretary General Dr Libérat Mfu

EAC Secretary General Dr Libérat Mfumukeko shares a light moment with the summit’s participants. FILE PHOTO 

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi

I would like to ask about the way EAC does its business. For example, you invite heads of state for a meeting, and then they confirm but all of a sudden it is cancelled. To what extent does this inconvenience the secretariat?

The confirmation comes only after the head of the summit has confirmed with the heads of state. And when they are all okay with that, the head of the summit just writes to us, generally through the chair of the council, and confirms with us. So it is as simple as that. We wrote a letter to the chair, and last week he said that well, this day is not good. It has happened over the last four years, when the heads of state can delay a summit when they have other engagements.

Three years ago, the African Union was holding a meeting at the same time. And for presidents, it was not convenient for them. And there was a quick decision taken there, that we should allow the AU meeting to take place, and then three months later hold the EAC meeting. So it’s not that easy.

I have seen a statement from the East African Community, and it was actually communication from Rwanda, that one of the members of the EAC asked that the date be postponed. We would like to know; which country was that?
We don’t know; and again when the chair of the summit is consulting the presidents, we are not there. He does so from his office, and of course the president does not report to the SG (secretary general). But the most important thing for us as the organisers of the summit, is to know whether it will take place or not. So there was no indication of which country doesn’t want to take part in the meeting.

To take place at that time. Most of our business is done through our organs and institutions, and you are here today and can see the East Africa Legislative Assembly, the MPs are around, the committee meetings are taking place, and in few days the plenaries will take place, and if you go on the second floor here you will see that the audit commission is working, and we have our executive meeting this afternoon, and the council is meeting the senior officials of all partner states, they are preparing the meeting of the PS’s (permanent secretaries) which will take place on Monday and Tuesday, and the Permanent Secretaries will prepare meetings of the ministers which will start on Wednesday so that’s where operational matters, policy matters are discussed so as far as I’m concerned as the SG of the community, I ensure to see that business is going on.

EAC for the longest time has been seen as a leader’s convention. So where do the people come in? And in what practical ways are you going to engage them?

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l think your question is very broad, but as I mentioned before, this is a community of six countries.

All of these countries have a population, and the population must be comfortable with the community. And if the population was not comfortable with the community, it would not exist, because so many things as I said have to go through our administration. They go through our parliaments. When you look at our pillars of integration, they are all people-centred.

What is customs union about?
It’s about free movement of goods, about opening borders so that people can trade among countries. People from one country can also look at people of another country as also their market. So the benefits of customs union are targeting mainly the people in our member countries. So to say that a people centred community is not a new concept. And actually in our treaty, it’s clearly stated, that our community has to be people centred. If you look at our second pillar of integration – common market, what is it about? It is about our people.

It is about every citizen of the EA to go from every country to another, without lengthy procedures, visa fees, and without wasting a lot of time. I think are things which will have a very great impact on people. Imagine you are looking for a job as a young person, you are here in Tanzania, four – five years. You want to be given a chance to go and look for a job in Kenya, or Rwanda or Burundi. In my home country in Burundi, I know so many Kenyans and Ugandans who live and work there.

Then monetary union of course you are Ugandan, and you come here in Arusha, we cannot use your Ugandan currency but have to change to Tanzanian currency. Imagine one day when you have to walk from your country, and walk to any place in East Africa, and can transact in your currency! That is making life easy.

Under our political federation pillar, we are talking anything which has a political character, we are talking about defence, diplomacy, political affairs, peace and security, all these are today under our political federation docket.

Each country has a defence liaison officer who are highly ranked officers. They are here to ensure that our armies know each other, and our defense forces improve. So trainings are there almost every week, to strategise as to how we can have a common defence force for East Africa. And we need it.

If you review history you will see, that almost all our counties were at some point invaded or colonised. Did any defend the other? No. They came, took over one country and another, and all of a sudden, all of us found ourselves under colonial rule.

Tomorrow this can happen, take some examples, some countries in the world, can decide to invade one country. It was Libya recently, as East Africans do we just watch when this happens?

We know militarily, we are not very strong. And you know when you are weak, you are vulnerable. And we don’t want to be vulnerable as a community in future.

So the community is about us, it’s about the future of our children. I didn’t point out that recently I was talking with journalists. We are a territory of 2.5 million square kilometers.

A country like Belgium, is as small as Burundi, or as Rwanda. Our GDP as a community is only $150 billion. A country like Belgium is close to $500 billion on GDP. A country like Netherlands which is almost the same size (50,000 square kilometers) as Burundi only has up to $800 billion.
So that shows us what we need to do because we have more natural resources, more land, basically more wealth in this community.

We have a bigger market, a bigger population, so that means that there is no reason whatsoever, to explain why over 50 or 60 years of independence, we are still lagging behind. So it means we still have a lot of work to do, and there are things we have not done.

The DR Congo has indicated that they would like to join the community, at what stage is that process if it has been initiated?
So, we did indeed receive a letter from the DR Congo.

It was a letter which was sent to the chair of the summit, who is H.E. Paul Kagame, and that letter was later forwarded to the EAC headquarters. But as I stated before, we cannot admit a country in the community as the EAC secretariat. So we have tabled this discussion for the next summit.

So for the next summit, this is now on the agenda, and we will ask the countries now to consider this request of DR Congo give us the guidance. But we know the procedures, and they are a number of them we have to follow. So I cannot tell you exactly the feeling of the other countries, because I haven’t listened to them.

About the newest member of the Community, South Sudan. There has been this political wrangle which has been running in that country, and has been a subject of mediation by so many entities. I know it’s being handled mainly on the political front, but what is the role of the EAC Secretariat, if at all there’s work being done here to see that the mediation process is a success?

So, we are doing a lot in South Sudan. Probably we are doing what our presidents envisaged, when they admitted the republic of South Sudan to the community. They believed that the best way to help South Sudan was to have them as a member of the family. And south Sudan right now is benefitting from all our programmes.

And they include capacity building, improving some of the productive sectors like agriculture, energy, and infrastructure. So South Sudan is like a full beneficiary of our programs. It’s a young country, and like any young country, it needs our support. We should not forget that it has been independent for very few years. And as EAC, we have given south Sudan freedom to be part of our customs union. And we know that many of our countries are doing business with South Sudan.
South Sudan is importing most of the manufactured goods in EAC. At least they transit through Kenya, but they are also buying a lot of things from Uganda as well. Though it is natural for them to be a part of the customs union, we are also helping them build institutions. The same way we are working on customs authorities in other countries, we are doing the same in South Sudan.

We have secured a grant from the Africa Development Bank, only for South Sudan to develop their banking sector, and to strengthen their central bank. In our peace and security programmes, South Sudan is also included and we work through our diplomacies. Through the EAC embassies, our opinions come to life. As EAC, we defend the interests of South Sudan; we defend peace in South Sudan

On the customs union, and the way it works. For instance we know it very well that between Uganda and Rwanda, until February this year, there was that border incident and recently we have had unfortunate incidents where Ugandans, or even Rwandans, have been shot dead as they were trying to move, goods from one place to another. And again I know that it will be handled at a political level, but what is the role of the EAC, in ensuring that protocol is observed?

I always tend to remind everyone that we are a community of six countries. With our agreements, and disagreements. Getting all people to agree on the same rules and regulations is a long journey. So in that process, sometimes they disagree, and on other times they quarrel.

Our role is to always make sure that where they disagree, we push them to agree. And this is done through platforms which are already established in the community. Now all our ministries of finance have been in Arusha, agreeing on matters to do with finance, matters to do with taxes. How they should deal with businesses, people within the community.

When it comes to trade, we also have a sectorial council, which gets together ministers of trade and industry, and this is where we raise the issues, we raise any incidents, whether it’s between Kenya and Tanzania, or between Uganda and Rwanda, and we remind the countries, that they have signed protocols, and made commitments. That is our role as EAC to remind them of the treaty, and also the long term goals of the community, so that they don’t lose sight of the interests of the community.

Some of the issues require time to be resolved, because you know that they may be of political nature, purely economic nature, but we are here to defend the treaty. And again remember, we cannot go into a country and tell them that you have to do this, but can advise together with the countries which are not in the conflict.

There is a cost that has been associated with integration. For instance, we have a town in Busia (border town), where I was recently and can say it’s a ghost town. Because it depended a lot on clearing and forwarding companies, yet many such businesses have closed, and thousands of jobs lost. This is because there’s very little clearing business going on there.

And perhaps it will be much less as most of the clearing now takes place at the coast (Mombasa). I anticipate with that, many people across East Africa will lose jobs, and perhaps dozens of companies will close because they no longer have merchandise to clear, and the auxiliary businesses that depended on the clearing business have the border post closing, is that a cost the EAC thought about, and saw how to mitigate it?

I have to say that now importers in East Africa are not clearing goods at every border is good because it makes our EAC products become more competitive. Goods coming from outside of the community, say China or India, pay these duties, of 25 per cent. And of course our plans are really about simplifying procedures. The more goods we make in East Africa the more we create jobs in East Africa. The overall plan is about East Africans getting benefits from the customs union, from the common market.

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