East African Community leaders on Thursday bade farewell to President Uhuru Kenyatta as chairman of the bloc, lauding him for his role in expanding infrastructure that has helped improve trade and connectivity in the region.
President Kenyatta had earlier handed over the EAC chairmanship to Burundi President Evariste Ndayishimiye.
And at the High-Level Retreat for the Summit on the EAC Common Market Protocol in Arusha this past week, President Kenyatta spoke of the important role infrastructure plays in the region’s integration agenda.
“East Africa can only attain the Common Market if its citizens are able to communicate easily and to move and ferry goods freely across the region,” he said.
“Kenya is keen to build transnational roads extending to all her borders,” President Kenyatta said, adding that his successor will oversee the completion of the multinational Bagamoyo-Horohoro-Lunga Lunga-Malindi Road stretching along the coasts of Kenya and Tanzania.
The road is currently under construction and will be launched soon, as part of a trade expansion pledge he made with his Tanzanian counterpart President Samia Suluhu last year in May.
On Friday, President Kenyatta joined President Samia to commission the 42.4km Arusha-Taveta bypass section curving around Arusha city, connecting Tanzania and Kenya from Arusha to Voi through Holili. The road is set to boost transport on both the Central and Northern corridors.
There are plans for the construction of a standard gauge railway (SGR) for the Northern Corridor (Mombasa to Kigali and beyond through Kampala) and the Central Corridor (Dar es Salaam to Bujumbura and Kigali and beyond).
The region views Kenyatta as the president who expanded EAC membership by overseeing the admission of the Democratic Republic of Congo, addressed and fixed Kenya-Tanzanian trade disputes and oversaw the region’s recovery from effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Kenyatta has had both hits and misses. He has been at the vanguard of encouraging regional integration, including bringing DR Congo on board, wooing Ethiopia,” said George Mucee, chief executive of GMM Consulting, an immigration consulting firm in Nairobi.
“On the other hand, I think, he did not pay a lot of attention on Somalia coming into the EAC,” he told The EastAfrican on Thursday.
Later in Arusha, Somalia made a formal bid to join the EAC, with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud indicating he had first asked President Kenyatta about it.
“Our long dream is to join the EAC. Somalia belongs to the EAC,” said President Mohamud.
President Kenyatta is also commended for having overseen various State actions by partner states that helped reaffirm social, political and trade relations – such as high-level engagements on bilateral trade and co-operation and strengthening political, trade and cultural ties.
“We need to understand the strategy of integration. There is no way in the modern economy you can achieve prosperity if you don’t solve the issues of markets’ size,” said President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.
“If you are a producer of goods and a service, the more people that buy from you the better. The global trend over the past 200 years was to expand markets to guarantee prosperity.”
“Integration is not just a political process but its survival,” said President Museveni, giving the example of Latin America which is rich in natural resources yet its people are flocking to the US to escape poverty due to disorder in its economic policies.
President Samia paid tribute to Kenyatta’s leadership saying the region cannot prosper if it fails to manage its produce.
“There is a need for intensive agriculture through irrigation and rainwater harvesting to double food production in the region and boost food security,” said President Samia.
South Sudan’s Presidential Affairs Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin, who represented President Salva Kiir, acknowledged President Kenyatta’s efforts to ensure peace in South Sudan and enable free movement of the South Sudanese through waiver of visa requirements.
Kenya and South Sudan waived visa requirements from July 26, 2021.
But critics are concerned about the slow pace of the South Sudan peace process, the ever-emerging non-tariff barriers that inhibit the performance of the EAC Common Market and the elusive peace in eastern Congo.
“Various studies have established that NTBs have significantly contributed to the declining intra-EAC trade which is now below 15 percent. Existing mechanism of resolving NTBs is costly and time-consuming,” said Kenneth Bagamuhunda, former EAC director general of customs and trade.
“Non-operationalization of the Trade Remedies Committee to handle matters relating to the application of Rules of Origin and trade disputes aggravates the problem of resolving NTBs in the region,” he said.