East African Cooperation Minister Samuel Sitta at midweek visited Taita-Taveta on the other side of the border and addressed a public gathering, telling his hosts that authorities on this side had directed district officials to ensure that small traders crossing the border with goods are not harassed.
This also covers commuter taxis on two wheels popularly known as ‘boda boda’ -- the term used in the report -- as well as minibuses, whose basic intentions are to ease border trade and improve life at border points, often marred by extortion and petty corruption at various points. The hosts were happy that this matter be put clearly as public policy mood.
While the effort by the minister is laudable and helps to consolidate the spirit of East African Cooperation, it was only limited to the margins of the cooperation atmosphere, not the nitty-gritty of the sort of issues that bedevil institutions as they forge a common practice, an etiquette of what constitutes cooperation, and even more so, integration.
There are visions that have been spelt out and limitations arising from national regulations and priorities, often at loggerheads with the spirit of cooperation. This aspect, that the minister was helping to resolve in his visit, relates chiefly to the welfare and economic interest of those living along the border, not the major institutional problems.
What is also encouraging is that the minister and his assistants in the ministry are being seen to work to resolve non-tariff barriers to trade, first at the small scale level as Minister Sitta’s visit more or less focused, and also at a higher level, of smoothening application of the East African Customs Union.
Without asking the government to work overnight on putting up a single customs territory for East Africa with a common external tariff and single point of entry for goods into the sub-region, we can at least urge authorities to ensure that the current pact, already agreed and applied for the past five years in particular, is observed. Auxiliary regulations mitigating its impact are a show of bad faith to an extent.
Since at some point top officials of the Ministry of East African Cooperation have appeared to see these limitations to trade, non-tariff barriers as more or less natural, that this is how things are done all over the world, actually asking the minister to go in person and issue assurances in that regard is a laudable move.
However our EAC partner states do not expect that we shall be sending the minister to iron out any impediment to cooperation that arises, or when such a visit is made, we jot down what we have now resolved, in like manner as in our ‘kero za Muungano’ notepad.
As the EA Treaty of Cooperation is essentially a supranational instrument, we don’t have as much luxury of interpretation as in the Union.
It is precisely in this area that the government needs to make an extra effort to remove the impression of a two-speed EAC, where the majority of the member states wish to move a bit quickly on several fronts, and Tanzania keeps urging them to observe the status quo.
We have failed to sign a pact with the EU because of onerous protectionist and ‘development’ check-mate positions, whereas the pacts are about trade. Now Kenya is on the verge of signing a separate pact with Belgium, and it may pose legal issues whether its trade agreements alter its position in EAC, along with EU-EAC projection as a whole.
When President Jakaya Kikwete met with top officials of the EAC, the Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly and the Secretary General Dr Richard Sezibera, the point was to put clearly what is the country’s position in EALA prerogatives, or ‘powers.’
While legal experts may cite any clauses or preambles to the treaty or the specific section concerning the EALA, it is enough to note that Tanzania seems to have a different interpretation from the rest, to acknowledge that there is a problem.
It is true EALA doesn’t override local legislation, but the spirit of integration is that when there is clear consensus on an issue, including with our EALA members, it should be ratified by Parliament as being in the interest of cooperation. That cannot be debated if one believes that the future is integration, not nationalism.