Common Market: Why EAC dreams are not coming true?

Sunday February 5 2012

Trucks await clearance at the Katuna border point.

Trucks await clearance at the Katuna border point. FILE PHOTO 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

Common Market Protocol. For the sake of the integration dream and the credibility of the five Heads of State, East Africans need a realistic common market with no taxes on import-export trade and harmonised tax regimes with free movement of labour and capital.

We were all told lies as children, and some of these lies still affect us in some ways. If you took time to study the tricks adults use to raise their children these days, you may then be able to understand the faults in view of the world we present to our children.

I am using the word “lie” in a very general sense: not just subtle falsehoods, but also all the smart ways we used to mold children into responsible citizens. Since we all agree, lying to children is sometimes necessary and in some ways indispensable, one particular issue which is never a lie in its true meaning is that— as human beings all our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.

Equally, futurist and independent scholar Joel Barker, in one of his famous inscriptions, tells us that a vision without action is merely a dream. Action without a vision just passes the time yet a vision with action can change the world. But even with Barker’s counsel, our leaders have refused to wake up to make our dream come true. As a result, the abstract dream of a united East Africa largely remains amorphous and puzzling.

Before we deal with the regional integration dream, let us welcome our MPs from a two-month recess. We also take this opportunity to welcome the New Clerk to Parliament, Ms Jane Kibirige, who has replaced Mr Aeneas Tandekwire who retired recently. While her appointment remains political and controversial, that’s not our topic today. So let us leave it at that. As for members, they return to Parliament on Tuesday to try and deal with a clogged agenda. Even though there is no clear business from the Executive, a friend who sits in Cabinet assured me last week that some three Oil Bills will be tabled when the House resumes.

EAC dream

Having said that, members of the East African Legislative Assembly, a sub organ of the larger East African Community, this week concluded its sittings in Kampala with one obvious message to the Heads of State in the five member countries— it is absurd for the Assembly to pass laws without implementation. The role of the Assembly is to discuss all matters pertaining to the Community and make recommendations to the Council as it may deem necessary for the implementation of the EAC Treaty.

The EAC is a potential precursor to the establishment of the East African Federation, a proposed confederation of the five members into a single state. In 2010, the EAC launched its own Common Market for goods, labour and capital within the region, with the goal of a common currency by 2012 and full political federation in 2015. However, EALA members this week complained that partner states were not doing enough to implement the Common Market, an expansion of the bloc’s existing customs union that entered into effect in 2005. In other words they are sleeping.

After failing to implement the Common Market Protocol, we are now busy pushing for Monetary Union and political integration. Other leaders are lobbying for incorporation of DRC and South Sudan into the bloc. Even as we wait to harmonise our data and fiscal policies in the hands of a single central bank, a first step in the right direction would be to turn this uncommon market into something more “common”. This way, the people in the five countries will then, see themselves as East Africans.
Our Heads of State must also deal with one issue at a time; or else they risk being everywhere and achieving nothing on balance.

While some people consider the regional integration a crazy dream, I strongly disagree. In fact, if we implemented the Common Market Protocol without thinking so much about the sovereignty of our individual nations, the integration dream would have come true. Under the Common Market Protocol, we had anticipated free movement of goods and services (trade), capital and labour but more than a year later, this is not happening.

Education harmonisation

Though for the purpose of ensuring the free movement of labour, the partner states undertook to harmonise their curricula, examinations, standards, certification and accreditation of educational and training institutions, the Council of ministers this week had to be forced to accept the creation of Inter-University Council of East Africa.
They had blocked the passing of this Bill claiming that there was no need for such a piece of legislation. This is unfortunate and it is a clear indication that unless the Council of Ministers gets serious, the integration will forever remain in theory. The minimum we can expect from a common market is that goods can travel freely within the Member States. But the hypocrisy of the member states who oppose harmonisation of taxation systems as envisaged under the customs union over political reasons is the reason why EAC dreams have not come true.

The ultimate goal of regional integration is to merge some or all aspects of the economies concerned. This usually evolves from simple cooperation on and coordination of mutually agreed aspects among a given number of countries to full integration or merger of the economies in question. But the way, things are moving in the five states, this focal purpose integration cannot be achieved when Partner States are behaving like aimless co-wives.

As East Africans we must hold fast to our integration dream for if our leaders allow this dream to die; our life will be like a broken-winged bird that cannot fly. Our leaders should know that this dream will only come true when they act to turn them into realities before East Africans part ways. Let us implement the Common Market Protocol to make integration a reality.