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Fast-track resolving disputes between EAC states

Gitura Mwaura

The resolve at the just-concluded Kampala Summit by Heads of State to find a lasting solution to the divisive issues in the East African Community has been broadly welcomed. It has long been a matter of concern that relations between some partner states have been unstable, hobbling progress towards regional unity.

Yet there is a silver lining to the wide-ranging differences that have included trade disputes and territorial wrangles. In the differences, unity appears to have been forged to find a solution, strengthening EAC’s purpose towards integration.

It predicates the regularity of Heads of State summits, in spite of what differentiates each country in their unique political and socio-economic circumstances which, at times, has been at cross purposes.

One can’t fault a country having to look inward in safeguarding its citizens’ interests, as that is what is expected of nations. But the regular summits demonstrate a certain measure of success. They point to the political will to collectively deliver on the many cross-cutting and cross-border development concerns, even as the countries individually mobilise their citizens.

The 19th Ordinary Summit of the East African Community Heads of State in Kampala last week combined two events, namely, the 4th EAC Heads of State Retreat on Infrastructure Financing and Development and the 1st EAC Summit on Investment in Health and Health Sector Investors and Donor Round Table.

While the running theme was finance and investment and dwelled on a wide range of issues as captured in the joint communiqué, two issues appear to have caught the most of the attention, namely, the decision by Heads of State to resolve differences and the cost of financing infrastructure.

There was a recommitment to the construction of 286 ambitious infrastructure projects to link the region and increase electricity generation capacity over a 10-year period at the cost of $78 billion.It is envisioned that this will see 7,600km of improved roads and have in place over 4,000km of standard gauge railway lines. It will also see an increase in installed electricity capacity of 6,734MW from 4,245MW and lay 3,000km of oil pipelines, as well as the construction of an oil refinery.

While there was a divergence of opinion between the Heads of State about the best way to go about it, whether through public-private partnerships or issuing a regional infrastructure bond, the enormity of the task was not lost.

This was put in sharp relief against the fact that all six countries in the EAC have a combined GDP of $147.5 billion, making the entire cost of the enterprise above the 50 per cent debt-to-GDP ratio deemed not a prudent threshold by the International Monetary Fund. But this is also against a regional economy that has been registering healthy growth.

The African Development Bank observes that East Africa ranks as the fastest growing on the continent currently. AfDB’s 2018 Africa Economic Outlook projects the growth to reach 5.9 per cent in 2018 and 6.1 per cent in 2019.

Looking at the wider region, signs are the trend should hold steady. And, though so far only some $5 billion had been raised, this still makes the 286 infrastructure projects feasible with a 10-year lead period to have raised the funds and, at least, delivered on most of the projects.

The only issue remains how best to go about raising the money amid the differences of opinion whether it would amount to being too expensive for a region where the cost of doing business is often prohibitive and local production usually uncompetitive in the international arena.

There is no reason why the common development vision should not be realised, which calls for continued dialogue, making it a positive show of a community talking to one another to arrive at a collective decision.

This is also why the decision to resolve existing differences caught regional attention. As Tanzania’s President John Magufuli was quoted at the sidelines of the summit terming them “small issues relating to businesses and traders between Kenya and Tanzania” as he explained the directive for two countries’ respective “ministers to meet urgently and resolve these issues.”

The resolve was the same between Uganda and Kenya to find a solution to the long-standing dispute over the Migingo Island on Lake Victoria. There is some optimism the trade disputes and mistrust among the EAC member states, including the simmering political discord between Rwanda and Burundi, will finally be resolved. —The writer is a commentator on regional issues – @gituram

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