Museveni role as head of EAC under scrutiny over EPA
By JULIUS BARIGABA
UGANDAN PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni's effectiveness as the chairperson of the East African Community is being questioned, especially after Burundi boycotted the recent Heads of State Summit in Arusha, Tanzania. The bloc has also been unable to finalise a deal on the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union.
The EPA provides access to the European Union market and is one of the critical issues awaiting resolution by EAC partner states. Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi are yet to sign the agreement.
President Museveni was mandated to follow up on the trade agreement at the EAC Summit of February 23. However, a government official in Kampala said “Nothing of note has been achieved since.”
Kenya is keen on finalising the EPA in order for its exports, particularly flowers, to continue enjoying duty-free, quota-free access to the EU market.
Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza scuttled the summit when he boycotted it accusing Rwanda of being behind efforts to destabilise his country. Sour relations between Bujumbura and Kigali are another issue that President Museveni has been unable to address.
Although the bad blood between Bujumbura and Kigali dominated headlines, trade experts take issue with President Museveni's inability to deliver anything significant towards the region's economic priorities.
Negotiations for the EPA were successfully concluded on October 16, 2014 and on September 1, 2016, Kenya and Rwanda signed the deal. All EU member states also signed the deal. However, Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda did not sign the deal, but as least developed countries, the three states still enjoy access to the EU market under “Everything But Arms.”
Tanzania opposed the EPA and campaigned against it, while Burundi faces economic sanctions by the EU.
With cracks appearing within the EAC following Burundi's accusations of Rwanda, some commentators say it is not far-fetched to think that such differences could see the bloc suffer a second collapse. Experts argue that Kenya and Rwanda could go ahead to trade with the EU based on the EPA they signed, while Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and South Sudan explore other trade partnerships.
Kenya in particular needs the EPA finalised in order for its exports to enjoy duty waivers.