East Africa Looks for Strength in Numbers

Article excerpt

More than three decades after its first attempt fizzled, the East African Community (EAQ is once again positioning itself as an economic powerhouse in Africa. By combining forces, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda aim to pull in investment to support and sustain economie growth- and projects- across the region.

The EAC was first founded in 1967, but disbanded 10 years later due to intense political infighting. It was revived in 2000, and in recent years, the consortium has seen steady economic growth. Combined real GDP increased 5,9 percent in 2010, compared to a 4.9 percent global rate. In 2012, the Word Bank predicts EAC economies will expand between 5 and 7.6 percent, with Rwanda and Tanzania leading the pack.

That kind of growth is a powerful step toward the EACs goal of establishing a common currency this year and forming a political federation in 2015. A single currency- patterned after the eurocould ease regional companies' concerns about exchange rates and spur project activity.

The group has already opened up borders of all member states for labor and capital and has a customs union, common market, legislative assembly, bank and court There are even calls to let South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo join the bloc.

As things stand, the efforts have sparked a jump in intraregional trade from US$LS billion in 2005 to US$2.7 billion in 2008, according to a report in Financial Times. "The EAC is the iastestgrowing of all the Africa regional economic communities," Donald Deya, CEO of the Pan African Lawyers Union, told the UK, financial newspaper.

The potential for even more growth is significant The EAC nations have more taan 133 million people, with a combined GDP of US$80 billion.

"We want to make business easier for the business community and, to also make life easier for East Africans," Owora Richard Othieno, head of the EACs Department of Corporate Communication and Public ASairs, told Public Radio International.

Not everyone is quite so bullish on the prospects of the EAC becoming a new project hot spotespecially within the hoped-for schedule.

The EAC leadership's timeline for regional integration is highly unrealistic, says Mark Bohlund, senior economist Sub-Saharan Africa at IHS Global Insight, London, England. "The East African Common Market Protocol is nowhere near implemented, and when the leadership set those targets, they took little notice of their ability to meet them," he explains.

The European Union took close to 50 years to achieve similar results, he says, "and they had superior capacity during that time."

The EAC region is also under renewed pressure to deal with rising security issues, including piracy, cyber crime, terrorism, human trafficking and money laundering. …