15 January 2001

TANZANIA: East African Community launched

The three East African heads of state on 15 January inaugurated the East African Community (EAC) in Arusha, northern Tanzania. Kenya's President Daniel arap Moi, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni and Tanzania's Benjamin Mkapa, formalised the EAC treaty set to pave way for an economic and, ultimately, political union of the three countries. "Everything that we have done up to now has just been the preparation, the work for integration has just begun," Mkapa said at the official ceremony.

"The important goals of the EAC are to improve our economies, quality of life and relations between the three countries," EAC secretary-general Francis Muthaura added in a statement. Technocrats who have been working towards the cooperation have termed it "a new chapter" in which "none of the old mistakes will be repeated". The "old mistakes", an official at the EAC secretariat in Arusha told IRIN, refer to the problems which led to the collapse of the EAC in 1977.

East Africa had become ideologically split then, with Kenya advocating capitalism and social interventions, while Tanzania pursued socialism. Besides, mistrust among the leaders mounted especially after Uganda's former dictator Idi Amin took power by force. Monday's EAC statement said the three countries now ascribed to economic policies that were pro-market, pro-private sector and pro-liberalisation.

Moi, Museveni and Mkapa had signed the treaty in November 1999 which set out the principles for economic, monetary and political union. It also provided for common action on the movement of people and goods between member countries and on transport, tourism and telecommunications.

There are still sticking points in the treaty which, according to the EAC's secretary-general, Muthaura, "are being addressed". Tariffs have remained a thorny issue. The treaty calls for common external tariffs and the elimination of international tariffs, but the economic disparities among the members cast doubt on how this could be implemented.

The establishment of an East African legislative assembly and of a customs union is still to be realised. "It is a good starting point," regional analyst Professor Moustafa Hassouna of Nairobi University told IRIN on Monday. "What remains is implementation of what is in the blueprint." He pointed out that the union could have a lot of potential for the region "since regional blocs are now the name of the game".

But he warned that Tanzania and Uganda's quest to join the Southern African Development Community (SADC) "casts doubt on whether they will stay in the EAC". Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his Burundian counterpart, Pierre Buyoya, also attended the EAC launching ceremony in Arusha.

The two countries have expressed their wish to join the community. President Mkapa noted on Monday that their admission could only take place once the state of insecurity in their countries had been permanently addressed. The East African region (Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda) covers an area of 1.8 million square kilometres with a combined population of about 80 million and has a vast potential in mineral, water, energy, forestry and wildlife resources.

It also has agricultural, livestock, industry and tourism development. Its people have a common history, language (Kiswahili), culture and infrastructure. The EAC integration was aborted in 1977 after 10 years. Efforts to revive the community began in 1993 with the heads of state signing an agreement to establish a commission for East African cooperation.

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