Will Kikwete rise above nationalism to steer EAC integration? Cargo trucks cross into Uganda at Malaba. Tanzania's perceived lone ranger position in the integration talks sparked off calls for decentralisation of community organs. File By George Omondi Posted Monday, January 25 2010 at 18:56 Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete's takeover as chairman of the EAC Heads of State Summit on January 1 might have gone unnoticed, but it might be the most watched tenure in the history of the region's integration. This is because this is the year his country's commitment to the East African Community (EAC) economic integration prospect will come under renewed scrutiny, as member States begin to implement a fully fledged custom union and to launch a common market in the next six months. His ascension to the chairmanship of the Summit coincided with the transformation of the regional bloc into a fully fledged customs union amid a rising tide of nationalism in the region.Among the five EAC member states, Tanzanian has stood out as the most hesitant in backing the integration process. Analysts reckon that with Mr Kikwete now at the helm of the crucial EAC body, the level of commitment of the region's biggest country by population and geographical size should become clear ushering the region into a straight integration course. Regional borders Most importantly, Mr Kikwete's one year tenure at the Summit puts him squarely in charge of implementing the region's common market protocol, an instrument that intends to open up regional borders for free movement of persons and other factors of production. Generally, it is the head of the Summit who gives direction and drives the community's agenda. "Some of the agreements reached at regional levels have far reaching implications on individual member states' sovereignty and need astute political leadership to succeed," said Kenya's Immigration minister, Mr Otieno Kajwang. Since Kenya is the only country whose goods have been attracting taxes to enter the markets of other member states in the past five years, a fully fledged customs union means eliminating all the remaining tariffs for totally free flow of goods. Players say unity among the five member states depends on Mr Kikwete's ability to stand the strong tide of nationalism in Tanzania that has caused fresh schisms in the region. In numerous speeches he made, prior to the signing of the common market protocol two months ago, the Tanzanian leader variously indicated his willingness to confront the problem of nationalism head on. "We are headed for major changes in the way we trade in the region and it is the responsibility of each one of you to prepare to take full advantage of it because this integration process is irreversible. "It is wrong to keep belittling ourselves by insisting we won't be able to compete with others in a fully fledged customs union," he told an annual gala organised by Tanzanian manufacturers last year. Kenya led other member states in pushing for automatic rights of establishment, access to land and use of national ID cards as travel documents in the region to ease the free movement of persons and services, but Tanzania blocked the campaigns insisting that the above rights must be subjected to national laws. The EAC treaty was eventually amended to accommodate Tanzania's position, but Kenyan officials maintain they are ready to turn a blind eye to the amended rules. "When the common market comes into effect at the beginning of July, Kenya will instruct immigration officials manning the country's entry points to accept machine readable national ID cards as travel documents from citizens of member states whose governments also accord Kenyans the same treatment," said Mr Kajwang. Kenya has also pledged to guarantee automatic rights of residence and business establishment to the region's citizens on a reciprocal basis, an indication that only Tanzanians could get a different treatment - a discrimination that is expressly barred by the EAC treaty. Earlier, Tanzania's perceived lone ranger position in the integration talks sparked off calls for decentralisation of community organs, which the country has hosted since the region's founding fathers established the trading bloc before its collapse in 1977. When Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni and former presidents Daniel arap Moi of Kenya and Benjamin Mkapa revived the union 10 years ago, the status quo that gives Tanzania exclusive control of the EAC organs was maintained. "Our interpretation of the EAC treaty is that headquarters (secretariat) is the only organ that must be based in Tanzania but other member states can apply for the right to host other organs so that the sense of ownership is spread across the region," Kenya's EAC minister, Amason Kingi, said at the height of the clamour. Apart from the fact that Tanzania continued to take a lone stand on regional negotiations, partners were also angered by the country's decision to join South African Development Community (SADC) instead of the Common Market for Eastern Southern African (Comesa) where other EAC member states belong - a situation that has made it difficult to implement the EAC's custom rules. But Mr Kikwete, who served as Tanzania's Foreign Affairs minister at the time of EAC's revival, remained diplomatic. "These negotiations require patience, understanding, courtesy, empathy, civility and tolerance from partners to achieve full regional integration," he told a session of the East African Legislative Assembly in Dar es Salaam last year. But the time for lofty talk appears to have run out as Mr Kikwete takes over the chairmanship of the regional outfit and the integration project moves to the next level. Above other things, President Kikwete has a lot of expectations to deal with, taking over the bloc's leadership mantle from Rwanda President Paul Kagame whose tenure expired on December 31 after achieving phenomenal feats in preparation for the common market. Rwanda and Burundi joined the EAC's custom union in 2007, but Mr Kagame has surprised the region by abolishing work permits and passport requirements on regional citizens who visit Rwanda. During his chairmanship last year, President Kagame changed his country's national language from French to English to ease interaction with other EAC citizens and had by December succeeded in his push for Rwanda's admission in the roll of commonwealth club of nations, a group of ex-British colonies where Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania belong. Like Burundi, Rwanda was a colony of Belgium. Above all, Rwanda is in the process of changing her traffic rules, from keep-right to keep-left, to ease transportation of goods across the region. This is the kind of phenomenal success and pace that President Kikwete's predecessor has set. Important achievement "The most important achievement during my tenure was the signing of the EAC Common Market protocol and the next leadership must move forward and focus not only on marketing our region to the rest of the world as a single investment destination but in fast tracking the EAC–Comesa-SADC merger," President Kagame said in his farewell speech. Experts believe President Kikwete's ability to forget relations with other trading blocs will to a large extent depend on how soon his leadership succeeds in addressing nationalist concerns in the region. Analysts have pointed out that some of these concerns are real and must be resolved amicably to prevent another collapse of the regional integration project. When the custom union was launched five years ago, Tanzania quickly moved to safeguard her revenues and private sector's concern by raising a higher tariff wall of 25 per cent on Kenyan goods, which it has been knocking down by five per cent every year. Uganda, on the other hand, opted for a less punitive 10 per cent tariff on Kenyan goods whose last heap of two per cent fizzled out by the end of last month. In spite of the high protective walls, data indicates that Kenya benefited most from the launch of the instrument. Apart from the growing volumes of trade, the custom union rules radically changed the composition of Kenyan goods sold into the regional market almost overnight. EAC Secretariat figures indicate that prior to the CU launch; Kenya's exports to her neighbours mainly constituted re-export products (goods imported for export without any value addition) like petroleum products, chemicals, machinery, transport equipment and manufactured goods. But with the arrival of the CU's rules of origin which demand at least 35 per cent local value addition to qualify for preferential treatment in the region, Kenyan traders have since shifted to the country's traditional exports of horticulture, tea, textile and apparel, coffee and tobacco as the new items of trade in the regional market. http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/-/539546/849474/-/view/printVersion/-/130s4ql/-/index.html suprizes never end while the decision was collective on rule of originality, that required goods to have at least being made within the region for 35% to enjoy a tax free incentives, the author decided deliberately to target Tanzania being the sole country that implemented a tariff tax on Kenyan goods! Kenyans are haters periodly!