Readily the most versatile member of the East African Community (EAC), Rwanda has had many negotiations that have proved feasible even after a lot of deliberation as to whether they would be easy to implement by other member states.
Some of the more prominent barriers to taking root of the Common Market are the trade restrictions, which usually stem from Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs). In late 2012, a Rwandan delegation to Arusha made a strong case for the doing away with some of the barriers that were an infringement of free trade, especially for landlocked countries with little open windows for raw materials.
The 2012 proposal was spot-on the long-distance transit vehicle dispensation that forms some of the bilateral migraine that, especially Kenya and Uganda, have to grapple with as other countries like Rwanda also use their ports for this transit. The many papers that one had to get stamps on, from every other border point, miscellaneous as they were, got axed in favor of a unified document that needed but a single border point signature. Thus, instead of waiting for weeks to go through the grueling procedure of obtaining spares and accessories for stalled long distance vehicles, one could obtain them from the vantage point of Rwanda, say from Nairobi, Kampala or Dodoma, in a day’s time.
The above is just a concrete example of the dozens of the NTBs that the EAC bloc has managed to nip in the bud to realize its Common Market potential, whose major goal is to create a single monetary union. So far, thirty-eight NTBs have received the X together with 8 more local NTBs in Rwanda. However, there is still some clout in the eye yet remaining, for thirty-six NTBs are still breathing their ugly barriers on countries of the region.
The future and the flipside of the coin
It would be diplomacy culture shock to know that eradicating the above NTBs, like anything else good in life came at a price. The customs between Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania borders began at a threshold of $3000 and $4600 respectively, from the earlier base of $1500. Talk about paying for quicker service delivery!
Alternately, there was a boon in the removal of clearance barriers in the shape of extending the custom hours. Countries now can trade for between 12 and 16 hours, a great reward for transporters who had to camp for days waiting for clearance. There is news that this will begin a 24-hour dispensation starting with the headquarters of clearance, on the Rwanda side.
This points out to a future East African nation, devoid of bureaucratic border certifications.
Or one may view the same through another window of opportunity, which is the fact that smallholder trading between the two sides of the border need no documentation to do so. Now, for a higher fee, retailers of food commodities on either side of the borders do not need to go through the bureaucratic regimen of acquiring Certificates of Origination. It is a 24-hour ‘petty’ trade that soon will melt borders just like the European Union.
The future of a unified East African society ultimately lies in the fast upgrading of the Common Market, devoid of barriers.