The first East African Community came with so much vigor and died – much should be blamed on the former dictator of Uganda, Iddi Amini. The East African Community was perceived as the beginning of a broader unification of Africa. There are disagreements among economists on optimal common currency areas especially as we wait to see what will happen with the Euro. Most economists however, would agree to the fact that countries benefit from the removal of barriers to trade.
The Heritage Foundation argued that, “free trade policies have created a level of competition in today’s open market that engenders continual innovation and leads to better products, better-paying jobs, new markets, and increased savings and investment.” They went on to say that free trade enables more goods and services to reach American consumers at lower prices, thereby substantially increasing their standard of living.
It is sometimes difficult to gauge accurately how well the process of bringing together the five partner states of East Africa is unfolding.
This is so especially since the various threads that need to be woven together to realize a unified and dynamic bloc, that is the East African Community and eventually a federation, are not so apparent to the ordinary people and even to some of the highly placed public figures.
The threads are many, spanning such areas as politics, governance, trade, finance, investments, infrastructure, labor, health, education, culture, scientific and technological cooperation, to name but a few of the more basic ones.
These are at times not as apparent to the public as they require high level research, monitoring and evaluation to establish their impact and influence in forging unity.
The launching of the Report on East Africa whose theme was “Deepening Integration, Intensifying Challenges” in Nairobi recently was no doubt a positive eye opener, enabling people of the region to know where they stand in the efforts to bring together East Africans for greater benefits.
According to IPPMEDIA (a Tanzanian news corporation), the Report examined the trends in the region since 2006 across six main themes of population growth; natural resource base; human development; infrastructure; economy; politics and government, and was published by the Society for International Development (SID), an international non-governmental network of individuals and organizations founded in 1957 to promote social justice and foster democratic participation.
EAC secretary general, Dr Richard Sezibera noted that the report showed that the region was performing better in almost all the other sectors.
“There was an increase in firms investing across the borders in such areas as cement production, financial services, tourism and manufacturing. Infrastructure and energy development and cross border electrification programs had become common practice,” he said.
The report showed that trade among the East African partner states expanded to USD 4.1 billion in 2010 from USD 2.2 billion in 2005, according to the State of East Africa Report 2012.
Foreign direct investment increased across East Africa and was estimated to be USD 1.7 billion in 2010, up from USD 688 million in 2000.
These are no mean achievements considering the period in which they have taken place. Trade and investments are major pillars that buttress the other regional efforts in integration if well nurtured.
They speed up financial and cultural interaction through movement of people, goods and services across borders. They prompt technological innovations and infrastructure development to facilitate such interactions.
No doubt, East Africans have cause to celebrate after learning that they have come such a long way in such a short time.
But it also reminds them of the challenges they face in the struggle to forge a stronger unity. The report says 55 million East Africans live below the poverty line up from 44 million in 2005. The region continues to be plagued by severe drought and famine as well as an unbalanced food production and trade regime.
Despite these challenges, the report has shown that East Africans have the energy and will to embark on the next lap of the long trek towards setting up a federation that is vibrant politically and economically.