Kenya,Rwanda and Uganda cooperation is a sustainable partnership

August 28, 2013

East Africa’s regional and global importance is growing very fast buoyed by impressive economic performances of Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda are well known, while the expanding economic and political significance of East African community and its largest economies of Ethiopia and Kenya is increasingly attracting the attention of the world. It is with this in mind that I have to believe that today’s launch of joint infrastructure projects by Rwanda, Uganda and Kenyan president in the coastal city of Mombasa is to acknowledge the excellent relations between the three members of East African community. The region is witnessing the continued and growing importance of East African Community, a key pillar in fostering regional integration in East Africa and in Africa as a whole. The economic development of the EAC region is impressive. There are at least two main effects of the three countries economic cooperation especially in infrastructure. The first is a direct effect to the business community of the three countries.The agreements signed in Entebbe two months ago generally focused on bureaucracy reductions and that is expected to increase trade flow as well as decrease prices for consumers. The other development is an indirect effect. An analyst I talked to asserted that the three countries cooperation have dynamic effects including but not limited to expanding business scale, increasing product variety through sharing information and the latest innovations among Ugandan, Kenyan and Rwandan businesses, as well as moving regional business policy reforms forward. Although the overall trade and investment performance of East Africa has improved in recent years, there is considerable room for further improvement in free movement of people, business licensing, customs clearance, finance and logistics services to further accelerate trade and investment, and moreover, how to optimize the use of economic cooperation to improve overall welfare for the block’s 135 million plus people.

Kampala, the capital of Uganda, one the members of coalition of the willing
Kampala, the capital of Uganda, one the members of coalition of the willing

Since the advent of the East African Community (EAC) unifying its three member-economies of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania and Rwanda and Burundi joining as members into a single market and production base marked by free flow of goods, services, skilled labour across, investment and capital across their borders the region has witnessed immense growth and development. Things have come a long way in close to two decades since the launch of the EAC. The aim was and remains to foster wider economic linkages among East Africans, closer economic cooperation, and regional economic integration through liberalized trade and investment among member economies in goods and services. Despite the progress, the regional cooperation has its skeptics who reason that the five member-economies produce largely similar products, hence limiting the scope for wider trade among them. In fact a an expert who works for an international research firm in the region believes that EAC countries compete with each other rather than complement one another through trade.For the Kenyans, whose trade had traditionally been dominated by the United Kingdom and Europe, trade with Uganda has similarly assumed greater prominence over the years and the pearl of Africa is now Kenya’s biggest trading partner. Such increased intra regional trade has been the result of deliberate moves by visionary head of states like Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame and newly elected Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta. Me think the establishment of international and regional business networks through cross-border investment schemes by Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda should be interpreted as a snub to Tanzania and Burundi. In other regional economic blocks, individual member countries cutting deals is common as well as joint programmes that create value chains spanning across national borders within the regional group. In my thinking, the theory underlying this approach by Uhuru Kenyatta, Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame is simple as one plus one. Rather than have every member establish its own complete infrastructures for a complex regional solution, each one is better off specializing in particular solution, thereby being able to serve a much larger market than its own. In so doing, everyone benefits from economies of scale. This Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda cooperation, then, is the new shape of trade, both regionally and continentally.

Today, East Africa is one of the most dynamic regions in the world and home to several fastest growing markets. Looking ahead, I am convinced that East African Community will continue to develop as a cooperation that promotes further integration and becoming an ever more important force for stability in the region. The connections between Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda is obvious in terms of trade and people to people exchanges. Efforts are underway to strengthen and broaden the relationship further between the three countries. Free trade is a cornerstone of Kenya’s foreign and trade policy. As the negotiations under the three countries enter a crucial phase in the next two months, business community welcomes Kenya’s leadership role in identifying priority actions to boost the three countries trade by curbing bureaucracy at the region’s gateway in Kilindini port in the coastal city of Mombasa. Trade is the most important element for development in East African and other regions. In this regard, I hope that East African Community will soon also be able to enter into free trade negotiations with neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Sudan. It is my conviction that Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda have a great deal to gain if they coordinate their efforts and reinforce cooperation. In my view, bilateral relations in East Africa have never been better and are now spanning over an ever – growing range of issues.

Contador Harrison