Ambassador Dr. Richard Sezibera, Secretary General of the East African Community (EAC), delivered a public lecture at UNU Headquarters in Tokyo on Thursday, 9 February. In this lecture, organized by UNU with the cooperation of the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Waseda University, Dr. Sezibera focused on regional integration as a tool for furthering social and economic development.
In extemporaneous remarks, Dr. Sezibera commented that “although we [the nations of Africa] are rising, we are still on the margins of the global economy”. The chief problem, he said, is that the African continent is split into 54 separate markets, and that each one alone is too small to attract investment or build sustainable development. To overcome these barriers, Dr. Sezibera emphasized the need for collective action, citing the work of the EAC to show that through a philosophy of integration, countries may begin to achieve sustainable growth.
Following a turbulent history dating back to the early 1900s, the construction of an East African community has had a number of incarnations. In 1996, however, the Permanent Tripartite Commission and secretariat were installed to spearhead revitalized cooperation, and by July 2000 the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community was ratified. Four stages of integration have now been set out, starting with a customs union and a common market, to be followed by a monetary union and eventually a political federation.
Regarding the impacts of integration to date, Dr. Sezibera spoke of the dissipation of hostilities and suspicions between partner states, adding that a “spirit of ‘oneness’” — along with a set of integrated protocols, laws and regulations — has allowed the East African region to become a well-rated investment opportunity in Africa. In terms of trade expansion, trade volumes in the EAC grew by 47% between 2005 and 2010, from 2,264 million to 3,338 million USD. Furthermore, the region consistently has been voted Africa’s best example of integration in the World Trade Policy Reviews. Dr. Sezibera concluded that whereas East Africa used to be one of the more unstable regions in the world, it is now seen as “the trailblazer in a rising African continent”.
Regarding future challenges, Dr. Sezibera commented that it is now crucial to find a framework of equitable distribution for the benefits of integration. “It does not serve us well”, he cautioned, “to pile the costs of integration on those least able to afford them without the ability to share the benefits”.
Following his lecture, Dr. Sezibera took part in a question and answer session, moderated by Prof. Kataoka of Waseda University. The discussion touched upon a range of issues, including the lessons that can be learned from the EU monetary union, the positive impact of the United Nations Environmental Programme in Kenya, and the potential limits of political integration. When asked if East Africa was taking on too much, too quickly, Dr. Sezibera acknowledged that “regional integration is ambitious, but deliberately so”, stating that it is useless to spend 50 years talking about integration when there are problems that need to be addressed today.
The text of Dr. Sezibera′s lecture is available for downloading in the right sidebar.