Few know the EAC and what it stands for: study

Many Tanzanians, including small and medium entrepreneurs, are not aware of the East African Community (EAC) and what it has to offer, a survey has indicated.

The problem is more acute in the southern highland regions, where farmers and crop traders have little information on markets for their produce.

It is sometimes easier for local entrepreneurs to trade with Europe than with neighbouring countries because of lack of information, according to Mr Allan Nswila, a business consultant based here.

During a forum convened to discuss challenges facing the bloc, he said the problem has been compounded by a poor transport network. “Very few Tanzanians know about the EAC and its potentials for doing business,” he pointed out. “People are much more aware of markets abroad than those within the region.”

Farmers in Mbeya, Iringa, Rukwa and Ruvuma regions, for example, were unaware of opportunities to sell their surplus produce at a time Kenya and parts of Tanzania were in dire need of food.Transporting maize to regions within the country that have been afflicted by drought and food shortages has also been difficult.

“There are also cases where the government had no money to buy maize when it was needed in neighbouring regions,” he said during a forum organised by a new lobby group, Friends of East Africa.The survey, carried out early this year, also covered small and medium enterprises in the northern regions including Arusha, where EAC has its headquarters.

Mr Nswila noted that very few cross-border traders consulted the East African Business Council and the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture on matters to do with regional trade.

“Even in Arusha, some business people do not seem to be aware of the business potential in neighbouring countries, especially EAC member countries,” he told an audience at the Arusha City Complex hall.

Other speakers echoed his sentiments, wondering why the Arusha region authorities appeared indifferent to the presence of the EAC secretariat in the town.

Dr Firmin Nguma, a retired public servant, accused the Arusha region, district and municipal officers of distancing themselves from regional affairs. 

“It’s unfortunate that some people here do not want to get involved in EAC matters,” he said. “As a result, Tanzania has always been left behind in negotiations on critical issues on regional integration.”

In response, EAC Secretary General Richard Sezibera said the secretariat was keen to work with Arusha authorities to champion the regional integration agenda. He pointed out, though, that the community comprised five partner states and it could not dictate terms to Tanzanian officials. He also denied that the EAC was pushing for land to become an economic asset under the Common Market Protocol. 

Land was listed among the contentious issues under the Common Market Protocol signed in November 2009, the others being travel documents and right of residence. “But these were successfully ironed out by the partner states,” the secretary general added.

The EAC boss admitted, though, that there had been fears in Tanzania that the common market arrangement would arbitrarily open up land to outsiders and landless people from other East African states. “This is not true,” he stressed. “Land remains a national issue.”

He cautioned, however, that Tanzanians would have to put their vast land resources to full use for economic development of the country. According to the secretary general, Tanzania can become an economic giant in Africa if it exploits its vast economic resources such as minerals, natural gas, wildlife, livestock and arable land. 

He also implored the Tanzanian business community not to fear the economic dominance of Kenya. There have been economic disparities among the EAC member states since the early days of the community, he said, and this has been reflected in education, skills and enterprise development.

A study conducted three years ago established that issues that needed to be sorted out to ease the process of integration included improving the way business is done by fine tuning the customs clearance procedures and introducing a single currency.

Respondents in the study commissioned by EAC also wanted service enhanced at border points. This would involve introducing a 24-hour work schedule, fast clearing services especially for large trucks and reducing time spent on verifying documents.

They also asked for freedom of movement of goods by removing border restrictions, accepting one common EAC identification document and ensuring the same standards for document verification at all borders. Taxation and non-tariff barriers also need to be dealt with by ensuring that taxation is standardised and paid once.
Source: The Citizen, www.thecitizen.co.tz, reported by Zephania Ubwani

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