KAMPALA, Uganda: Women business cooperators along the Uganda- Rwanda border have called upon the East African Community to intervene in the Uganda-Rwanda diplomatic stalemate with a view of re-opening Uganda’s common border with Rwanda at Katuna.
M/s Miria Akankwasa, the chairperson of Katuna Women Cross-border Multipurpose Traders Cooperative says that as a result of the continued closure of the border, women business communities along the border were choking on loans and were susceptible to defaulting, thanks to lost cross-border business.
“As Cross border women traders, we are really suffering. We have lost a lot of money since the border closed, women are shifting from homes because of microfinance loans. The loan guys are hunting for the women traders, our children are not schooling because some used to study across Rwanda,” she said. Akankwasa. She noted that because Rwandans are restricted from coming to Uganda, Ugandans along the border also do not free to travel to Rwanda
Akankwasa was speaking at a public dialogue to mark 20 years of East African Community (EAC) held at Hotel Africana in Kampala on Thursday last week. The dialogue was jointly organized by SEATINI- Uganda, the Eastern Africa Sub-Region Support Initiative(EASSI) and Centre for Social Justice in Food and Health (CEFROHT).
Speaking at the same event, the SEATINI Country Director M/s Jane Nalunga urged East Africans to put pressure on their leaders to implement regional and international commitments: “When you sign the treaties, it is imperative that you respect them by implementing them. Let’s embrace the EAC integration with joy. These are the successes that we want to reflect on as we celebrate today, and 20 more years to come,” she said.
Under the EAC Common Market Protocol that came into effect in January 2010, all EAC member states are supposed to allow free movement of people and goods from member states across their borders as a way of increasing intra-EAC trade and promote regional integration. Rwanda’s unilateral closure of its main border with Uganda in late February this year has however seen a significant reduction in trade volumes between the two countries, and Rwandan citizens have been barred by their government from traveling to Uganda.
The EAC treaty was established on 30th November 1999 and came into force in July 2000. From the founding 3 member states of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, the block has grown to presently six members, admitting Rwanda, Burundi and most recently South Sudan along the way. Recently, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have also applied to join.
The Permanent Secretary Ministry of East African Community Affairs. M/s Edith Mwanje said she was optimistic about the EAC’s prospects, noting there has been significant progress on the Customs Union front: “The implementation of the elimination of non-tariff barriers has helped increase trade volumes between member-states” she said.
Mwanje, however, noted that none payment of annual subscription fees by member states is undermining the progress of the Community. She also highlighted competition from other Economic blocs such as the Common Market for East and Southern Africa(COMESA) as another challenge.
These, coupled with on and off bilateral tensions between member-states culminating in non-tarrif barriers has seen intra-EAC trade suffer significant decline in the recent past, with member countries exploring alternative markets. Between 2013 and 2017 for example, intra-EAC trade fell from $3.5billion to $2.4billion, and analysts argue that the recent bilateral tensions between Uganda and Rwanda mean it(trade) won’t be recovering soon.
Already, the standoff has already significantly hurt Uganda’s exports to Rwanda, with figures from URA and Bank of Uganda noting that Uganda earned just $34.12million in the first quarter of 2019, the lowest quarterly earnings from Rwanda in 9 years!
Hon. Fred Mukasa Mbidde, Uganda’s representative to the East African Legislative Assembly Member(EALA) called upon leaders to always listen to citizens’ concerns about the community, arguing that its them (the citizens) that the Community is meant to serve: “Traders, when you tell your leaders what they are supposed to do, that is not politics. It’s your right.” He said.
He argued that what brought the first EAC crumbling in the 70s was political differences between leaders of member-states, which are emerging even today: “People don’t just close borders. Rwanda is complaining that its citizens are jailed in Uganda without trial. These are people issues – allegations that have to be verified by a joint verification committee,” said Mbidde.
M/s Sheila Kawamara Mishambi, a former Member of EALA and the Executive Director EASSI expressed disappointment with what she called the reluctance of EAC leaders to resolve the Uganda-Rwanda stalemate, arguing that it was affecting hundreds of ordinary lives:
“The people at the borders are East Africans. They feel the pinch and when borders are closed, they suffer most,” she said. “You are bringing on board DRC with all their own problems to be added to South Sudan at a time when we’re failing to resolve old misunderstandings between Rwanda and Uganda. How do you expect to handle all these problems,” she asked.
Ambassador Nathan Irumba, Executive Director SEATINI called upon member countries to obey the Community’s laws, noting that only then can the Community move towards full integration: “The challenges facing EAC stem from failure to obey the laws. Leaders forget that after ratifying the protocols, they are supposed to implement them to the dot,” he said.