• EAC is a regional intergovernmental organization originally founded in 1967.
  • Comprising of six partner states, EAC is a financial giant with the ability to lift the region and the entire continent out of poverty.
  • Business Insider SSA spoke to Mr. Edwin N. Rutageruka, a Tanzanian trade official on what ails East Africa Community and what can be done to achieve the elusive unity.

With a population of over 150 million citizens, a land area of 1.82 million square kilometres and a combined Gross Domestic Product of US$ 146 billion (EAC Statistics for 2016), East Africa Community (EAC) is without a doubt one of the world’s most attractive trade destination.

Comprising of six partner states: the Republics of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, the United Republic of Tanzania, and the Republic of Uganda, with its headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania, EAC is a financial giant with the ability to lift the region and the entire continent out of poverty and  usher it into age of prosperity.

East Africa Community (EAC) is a regional intergovernmental organization originally founded in 1967, dissolved in 1977, and revived with the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community (the Treaty Establishing EAC) signed in 1999 by Kenya, Uganda and United Republic of Tanzania.

Burundi and Rwanda became members in 2007 while South Sudan gained accession in April 2016.

The aim of EAC is to gradually establish among themselves a Customs Union, a Common Market, a Monetary Union, and ultimately a Political Federation of the East African States.

However, over the years, like most regional trade bodies in the continent, the body has remained dormant with member states reading from different scripts and pulling in different directions effectively grounding the ‘East Africa giant.’

At its lowest moments it was even feared Tanzania and Burundi may pull out over the so called ‘coalition of the willing’ between Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

"Do they want to create another community? Are they angry with our country or me, or do they want push us out?" Former Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete said at the floor of Tanzanian parliament in 2013 as he sharply criticised Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda for taking decisions at the East African Community without consulting other members.

Five years later, EAC is still intact and even more stronger, it seems East African leaders have finally realized they have a lot more to gain with staying together than falling apart in the true spirit ‘Umoja ni Nguvu’ (Unity is strength).

During Tanzania’s week in Kenya where Tanzania goods and products were showcased in the first trade exhibition held in Kenya as the East African nation moves to enter the Kenyan market with a bang, Business Insider SSA spoke to Mr. Edwin N. Rutageruka, a Tanzanian trade official on what ails East Africa Community and what can be done to achieve the elusive unity.

Mr. Rutageruka is the director General of Tanzania Trade development Authority (TanTrade), an institution under the ministry of Industry, trade and investment mandated to support both foreign and domestic trade development.

So first and foremost, what can be done to strengthen East Africa Community?

“Number one trust, let us build trust, number two let us build trust and number three let us build trust because if you don’t trust each other all you are doing is just lip service, let us do business, let us do investments, let us support each other, let us open up and let us trust each other and everything will fall in place.”  said  Mr. Rutageruka.

Also read: TANZANIA AND KENYA TAKE ANOTHER STAB AT SOLVING TRADE SQUABBLE

Lack of trust has been EAC biggest undoing with member states saying one thing and doing totally different thing altogether, Kenya and Tanzania knows this too well.

In April 2017, Kenya banned the importation of cooking gas from Tanzania, in a move the ministry of energy said was meant to curb the proliferation of illegal filling plants.

In return for the ‘kind gesture’, Tanzania banned importation of milk from Kenya and what followed was terse relations which each country imposing trade barrier after another.

As a result of the trade restrictions, Kenya’s exports to Tanzania dropped by 34 per cent in the first five months of 2017, to Sh4.35 billion ($42 million).

After months of negotiations speared by President Uhuru Kenyatta and President John Magufuli a trade truce was finally signed by the two nations, ending the trade war.

Mr. Rutageruka says most of trade tariffs between Kenya and Tanzania have already been solved and all that remains now is sorting out non-tariff issues, a process the two countries have since embark in earnest.

“The good thing is that everybody is really excited to see that we are unblocking the Non-Tariff Barriers which are hindering smooth trade operations between Kenya and Tanzania.

For tariffs we have already agreed, we have common external tariff since 2010 when we signed the East Africa common market protocol but there are issues which are non tarriff which are still hindering smooth trade operations in East Africa like at the border, but we are now moving to have joint border committees at all Tanzania-Kenya borders  whose objective is to smoothen transactions at the borders for example Tanzania Revenue Authority and Kenya Revenue Authority officials now do joint inspection of goods”

One such example of joint committees is the recent opening of the $12 million (Sh44 billion) worth Busia One Border Post along Kenya - Uganda border by President Kenyatta and his Ugandan counterpart.

All Ugandan and Kenyan trade officials are now housed under one roof jointly inspecting goods and services and exchanging data in seconds, ultimately saving time and cost and in the process promoting trade and integration.

Also read: 4 reasons why the $12million Kenya-Uganda one-stop border is a game changer

Cross border trade offers great opportunity to not  only countries but also vulnerable groups such as women and youth who  would otherwise have struggle to be absorbed by the country’s economy and Kenya-Tanzania border is not any different.

“More than 70 percent of traders at the borders are women and so we have agreed that we should have East Africa women, it is already there in Tanzania we have women cross border trade association and so we want to have similar kind of association in Kenya so that we can formalize trade, we don’t want the panya route informal kind of trade (black market) we want to be formal so that we can have very good data management so that in case of any trouble shooting  which is required then it becomes much easier to see how we can put our heads together and solve it.”

For a prospective investor out there Mr. Rutageruka says Tanzania is open for business.

“I want to tell every person out there that Tanzania is open and ready to support them, we are ready to work and partner with other countries to promote trade and investment in Tanzania, in case of any assistance come to TanTrade which is a government institution and serves as a link between the private sector and the government, Tanzania is open for business.”