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Why EAC Ranked Top in Regional Integration

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By Florence Gichoya

The inaugural Africa’s Regional Integration Index, ranked East Africa Community (EAC) as the top regional body in Africa. The report was compiled by African Development Bank (AfDB), African Union Commission (AUC) and Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and was released on April 2 2016, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Index, showed the progress and impact of regional integration in the continent. It looked at 28 indicators among them regional infrastructure, trade integration, productive integration, free movement of people and goods, and financial integration.

Africa has 8 regional intergovernmental organizations under the African Union. East Africa Community (EAC), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), Southern African Development Community (SADC), and Arab Maghreb Union (UMA).

Overall, EAC was ranked the most integrated region, followed by SADC and ECOWAS came third. CEN-SAD was ranked the least integrated region. IGAD, which Kenya is a member, was ranked the best performer in the area of infrastructure.

Free movement across borders

On January 1 2014, the tripartite partnership of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda launched the use of national identity cards to travel across the three countries. “Time has come for us to remove colonial boundary barriers that have kept us apart and also isolated the people from interacting and doing business freely.” President Uhuru Kenyatta said.

The initiative’s aim was to encourage more integration, free movement of goods and services in the region that would boost the economy. “This is what we have agreed as leaders so that our people can interact by visiting each other’s country to do business and develop domestic tourism.” Uhuru said. So far the project has had considerable success, evidenced by the favorable ranking in the Africa’s Regional Integration Index.

EAC has also been commended for implementing easy travel for tourists intending to visit the region. On February 20 2014, the East Africa single tourist visa for Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda was launched by Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta, Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame. Tourists need not apply for visas from the three visas, the 90 days visa allows multiple entries in the three countries. Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda also embarked on marketing the region in international tourism fairs.

However, research has shown the project is still unpopular in the region. Kenya Tourism Federation announced in June 25 last year that 58 per cent of tourists had not used the single tourist visa, due to lack of awareness.

The Africa’s Regional Integration Index reported that, “When visa or work permit restrictions are cut, gains in time and resources open up, which supports more competitive businesses and economies.”

Africa Union Passports

Just like the European Union (EU) issues EU passports to citizens of its member states. The African Union (AU) will soon launch African passports to all Africans. The AU plans to issue the 53 Head of states, with the passports in efforts to popularize the travel document to their citizens.

EU passport holders don’t need visas to travel across Europe; likewise, AU passport holders will freely access all African countries without restrictions. “A few of us at the AU are already using that passport within Africa, and it is very useful, but we want the heads of states to carry it when they are visiting African countries to make it official and known to others as well.” Dr.  Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission said.

African continent is still beset by restrictions of free movement of goods and services. During the African Leadership Forum held in Dar es Salam in July 2015. Olesugun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former president called for the abolition of visas by African governments. “What we need to do in order to speed the integration process is to abolish visas in Africa. West African countries have done it and it is working.” He said.

According to AfDB’s Africa Visa Openness Index (2016), 55 per cent of African countries still issue visas to African travellers intending to visit their countries. Only 20 per cent of African countries, allow visitors without visas. Seychelles has the best visa openness policy. “Visa openness promotes talent mobility and business opportunities. Africa’s leader’s and policymakers have a key role to play in helping Africans to move freely in support of  (AU) Agenda 2063’s call, to abolish visa requirements for all Africans by 2018.” Moono Mupotola, AfDB’s Director of Regional Integration and Trade said.

European Union

The European Union has succeeded in economic and political integration, compared to other regional bodies in the world. It has a membership of 28 countries and has existed for more than 55 years.

Within the EU, there’s free movement of people and goods. In 1999, it successfully launched the Euro, replacing the member countries’ currencies, with the exception of Britain and Denmark.

The regional body was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, for contributing, ‘to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.’

Although Europe is a leading regional body, it is currently facing the threat of terrorism from Islamic State. It also has to cope with unprecedented immigration crisis, which has deeply divided EU’s membership on its policy on open borders for asylum seekers.

Terrorists attacks in EU’s capital Brussels, Belgium, on March 22 2016 that killed 31 people. And the deadly Paris terror attacks in 2015 have caused proponents of EU to be apprehensive on regional cohesion. Countries like Britain and France are now calling for tougher measures on EU’s immigration policy.

Another challenge for EU is the looming exit of Britain, the exit dubbed ‘Brexit’ will be determined by a referendum in 2017. Britain, a leading economy in Europe, has maintained its national currency, sterling pound, and declined to adapt the Euro currency. It has also restricted free flow of immigrants from Syria and other Middle East countries. If the referendum sails through, Britain will join Switzerland and Norway, which are the only European countries that are non-members of the EU.

Kenya can set the standard and avoid the ‘oil and minerals curse’

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By Florence Gichoya

Many African countries that are rich in minerals and oil have had a symbiotic relationship with conflict. Where oil, gold and diamond thrive in plenty, conflict has not been far from these countries.

Kenya recently exported the first batch of base titanium to China and we could soon become an oil exporter. But when we strike the ‘black gold’ and it becomes viable, will it boost our GDP or do we have to worry about the ‘oil curse’?  For a long time Kenya has been the biggest non-mineral economy in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Already, there have been numerous cases of demonstrations by people in Turkana County who demanded for more employment opportunities from the exploration company Tullow Oil. The local leaders have also been agitating for a bigger share of the oil revenue should benefit the locals. The county had been marginalized consistently by previous regimes and with the recent discovery of oil and water aquifers shows that God has finally smiled on the region.

But even as we celebrate our new found wealth, we need to be deliberately cautious so that we don’t become another statistic. The worldwide demand of oil and other minerals supersedes the supply and that’s why pundits have always said that oil revenues tend to increase corruption, incidences of anarchy and dictatorship.

Oil spill in Niger Delta, Nigeria Photo by EPA
Oil spill in Niger Delta, Nigeria Photo by EPA

Africa has many bad examples of the trend, for instance the conflict in Niger Delta region in Nigeria between oil companies and local communities. South Sudan has now been plunged into violence and there is the narrative in media reports that the conflict is due to power struggles between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar. However, one can’t ignore the hidden agenda of controlling the country’s vast oil resource. Central African Republic (CAR) has also recently fallen to anarchy with violence between different factions. The country has seen a lot of instability over the years because of coups and counter coups. CAR has large deposits of gold and diamonds. In fact, 80% of the CAR’s diamonds are gems which are of higher value than industry diamonds and their quality is ranked fifth best in the world.

DRC is a another gloomy statistic of how minerals have been exploited by vested interests at the expense of conflict, human rights violation and high levels of poverty among the people. The illegal mining of cassiterite, coltan, gold and tungsten is managed by rebels and illegal cartels that fan conflict so that they can support the supply chain to multinationals that manufacture computers and mobile phones. These companies’ silence on use of conflict minerals is proof of their culpability. So far only one multinational company, Intel, has stated that it’s no longer using conflict minerals in making their products.

All the same oil and minerals are our heritage and can be a blessing if managed well. Kenya can learn a lot from Norway and Canada. The countries have observed democracy over the years and managed to use their oil revenue responsibly. They have invested in education, health, infrastructure and their citizens reap directly from their resources. Here in Africa, Botswana has managed to avoid conflict as it is a major diamond exporter.

We have to do things differently on how we manage our oil and minerals. Transparency and accountability by the government and stakeholders is key. The public should be aware of the flow of minerals from the source, export and process to the final product. Most of the conflicts arise from inequitable sharing of revenue and corruption by government officials.

Nairobi’s resilience after Westgate attack

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By Florence Gichoya

Nairobi is a leading economic hub in the East Africa region and its growing economy attracts Kenyan and international investors. Various multi-nationals have set up their offices and small medium enterprises (SMEs) continue to grow and offer employment to many Kenyans.

The city is also a tourist attraction with diverse destinations for visitors for instance: the Nairobinational park is unique in the world, Karura forest where visitors can go for nature trails andBomas of Kenya which is a vibrant cultural village. The city is a melting pot of different cultures, there is plenty of various cuisines from different parts of the world.

Tourism is a major foreign exchange earner in Kenya. According to Moody’s Investment Services and the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism generates 14% of Kenya’s GDP and employs 12% of Kenya’s workforce.

Kenyans were horrified when the terror group Al shabab attackedWestgate shopping mall in Westlands area of Nairobi. The terrorists killed 67 people and injured over 176 innocent Kenyans. This is the worst terror attack on Kenyan soil since the August 7th 1998 US embassy bombing in Nairobi by the Al qaeda where 224 lives were lost.

The attack got many experts and analysts’ worried if the country would experience economic repercussions as a result. Will the country achieve its projected economic growth? Will tourists numbers decrease? Will western countries issue travel advisories?There shouldn’t be any cause of alarm, for instance during the week of the Westgate siege the Kenya shilling remained stable.There are many cities that have bounced back after a terror attack for instance, New York after the twin towers attack in 2011. London has also bounced back after an attack on its underground trains and a double decker bus in 2005.

Westgate shopping mall before the terror attack
Westgate shopping mall before the terror attack

With the exception of United States, the European Union member countries have not issued travel advisories therefore the tourists numbers will not be largely affected.After the attack, Kenya’s tourism cabinet secretary Phyllis Kandieaddressed the media and said that, “This was a very unfortunate, isolated case and it’s being managed.” She further emphasized that the attack was a small hiccup in Kenya’s resilient tourism sector which is expected to have a long term growth.

According to the African Economic Outlook 2013 report which was released after the westgate attack, it projects the Kenyan economy will grow at a rate between 4.5 per cent and 5.5 per cent this year.

African Development Bank’s Regional Director for the East Africa Resource Centre, Gabriel Negatu said that there will be short term shocks but the economy will be able to withstand these shocks in the long term. He also said that the growth prospects for Kenya are good.Devolution and Planning Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru, projects the country’s economy will grow by 6.1%.

Kenyans are resilient people, after the attack they were united in donating blood and raised over 100 million shillings for those affected. The government also needs to play its part of increasing security surveillance in all areas of the country.

The country has been hit hard but the Kenyan spirit has emerged stronger and Kenya will recover and surprise the critics. Indeed Nairobi is the place to be.