Open frontiers for trade, Ruto tells EAC leaders

Tuesday, October 11th, 2022 05:50 | By
Ruto Tanzania
First Lady Rachel Ruto with Presidents William Ruto and Samia Suluhu. PHOTO/Twitter

by PD Team


President William Ruto at the weekend embarked on a regional charm offensive that saw him travel to Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania in a shuttle diplomacy calling upon the leadership in the region to leverage resources to drive economic growth and create opportunities for business people in the region to prosper.

To make the dream of regional prosperity possible, President Ruto proposed to his counterparts from Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania to open up their borders for free movement of goods and eliminate restrictions that inhibit free trade and the movement of citizens.

Speaking in Tanzania yesterday, President Ruto and President Samia Suluhu agreed to work on ways to eradicate trade barriers between the two countries, which have recorded increased cross-border trade in the last two years.

Ruto said a borderless East Africa Community (EAC) will not only spur free movement of goods but also unlock numerous business opportunities, wealth and prosperity for the citizens of the region by making it possible for them to trade with each other by leveraging on their countries’ respective strengths in such areas as mining, agriculture and manufacturing.

With 56 trade barriers between Kenya and Tanzania having been resolved this far, Ruto was confident that the remaining 14 will soon be resolved, hence increasing trade between the two countries.

“Once Kenya’s Cabinet Secretaries are approved by Parliament, those concerned with EAC matters will meet their Tanzania counterparts to work on the modalities of resolving outstanding trade barriers to pave way for improved business activities,” President Ruto said.

Vetting of Cabinet Secretaries will start as soon as the National Assembly forms its House committees and will be concluded by early November.

The public has already been invited to give their views on the nominees.

“In the year 2020 and 2021, Kenya’s exports to Tanzania increased to Sh45.6 billion while imports from Tanzania nearly doubled to Sh50.1 billion in 2021 from Sh27.2 billion. This is a clear indication that trade is in favour of Tanzania,” Ruto said in a joint communiqué with his host, President Samia Suluhu.

Ruto also used the opportunity to press for a natural gas pipeline from Tanzania through Mombasa and later Nairobi.

“The project, upon completion, would make our countries compete for investment as there will be sufficient energy for development,” he said.

The two countries agreed on the need to ease the transportation of key energy resources, noting that measures have been put in place on the implementation of the project.

Backing the proposals, President Suluhu said: “Our countries are only separated by boundaries but we must build on our close cultural and historic ties to ensure our citizens benefit from interactions”.

Large chunk

While in Uganda on Saturday, President Ruto called upon President Yoweri Museveni to lead the way towards actualising the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), urging regional leaders to leverage on the strengths of the various countries to set up industries and save on importations, which consume a large chunk of the region’s foreign exchange, affecting its balance of trade with big economies like China and India.

“We can transform our borders, which today stand out as barriers, and convert them to bridges so that goods, services and people can move across East Africa without any impediments,” Ruto said at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds in Kampala during Uganda’s 60th Independence Day celebrations.

Earlier, while attending Ruto’s inauguration last month, President Museveni had made a case for greater trade co-operation within East Africa, noting that election campaigns in Kenya hardly mentioned the need for co-operation between EAC member States.

Picking the cue, President Ruto at the weekend encouraged the region to venture into joint projects, especially in sectors where member States have an abundance of raw material but lack processing manpower.

He gave the example of clinker — which is used in the manufacture of cement — fertiliser and steel as some of the goods that are imported but whose raw materials are readily available in the region but are not properly utilised.

“We spend $500 million every year to import clinker for our cement manufacturers, for our construction, but we have the raw material in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to produce clinker,” he said.

According to him, harnessing this advantage can save the three countries the $500 million they export from the region.

To push the agenda, Ruto asked Museveni to take charge and lead the region in ensuring EAC becomes a borderless community. “You have the age and you have the experience, take the responsibility and lead the charge,” he said.

In Ethiopia where the President had gone to witness the launch of Safaricom Ethiopia in the populous nation, President Ruto and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed addressed ways to tackle terrorism and violent extremism to enhance peace in the Horn of Africa.

Ruto noted that it was time the two countries exploited their long-standing relations to increase cross-border trade.

“The Kenya-Ethiopia partnership is a cornerstone of our mutual benefit and regional stability,” Ruto said.

As the two leaders launched the Safaricom subsidiary, Ruto also urged Abiy to make use of Lamu Port as the homeport for the Southern part of Ethiopia, due to its close proximity.

Revenue stream

Safaricom’s Ethiopian expansion is expected to provide new revenue stream options for the giant telco, act as a springboard for more products, and send signals for other Kenyan companies to consider setting up shop in Ethiopia, a country with over 115 million people.

President Ruto’s presence in Addis Ababa proved the underlying importance of the firm’s regional expansion strategy, terming the deal an “excellent tradition of neighbourly synergy”.

Ruto commended Abiy for backing the “monumental game-changer” in the Ethiopian and regional infrastructure and ICT landscape.

“This is an emphatic signal that the African Unity of our time has come of age: A continent united by opportunity, and a Pan-Africanism driven by trade,” he said at the launch ceremony.

He also challenged African countries to place research at the centre of their planning, noting that more resources must also be put in the field to generate fresh data that can guide policy interventions.

Reporting by Fred Aminga, Brian Khaniri and PSCU

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