THE year 2008 will be recorded in history as when the East African Community was preoccupied with the negotiations of the Protocol for the Establishment of the EAC Common Market. The negotiations that opened in April at the first round held in Kigali, Rwanda and proceeded through subsequent five rounds in Nairobi, Bujumbura, Kampala, Zanzibar and Rubavu (Rwanda) in August, September, October, November and December respectively, were remarkable by their great determination as well as systematic and methodical approach.

When launching the negotiations, the Partner States established the High Level Task Force on the Negotiations of the EAC Common Market (HTLF) comprising of 50 members from each of the five EAC Partner States and representing the broad spectrums of stakeholders. The brief to the Task Force was clear and focused: to develop a Protocol that would establish a strong, competitive and sustainable EAC Common Market. The time frame for carrying out the HLTF’s task was similarly specific: conclusion of the negotiations by December 2008 and launching of the Common Market by January 2010.

The conduct of the negotiations was well structured on the basis of a Model Protocol on the Establishment of the Common Market. The Model Protocol itself was the handiwork of a highly experienced and resourceful team of experts and consultants that borrowed heavily from the experiences of other Common Markets, past and present, including EU, CARICOM and the former EAC Common Market that had lasted from 1967 to 1977.

In addition, the negotiations were set against the favourable background of the EAC Partner States’ ongoing implementation of many aspects of a Common Market under the EAC Customs Union that has been operational since 2005. Given this confluence of favourable factors, the HLTF process made swift progress, right from its launch at the first round in Kigali . Indeed, at the Kigali roundof the negotiators confounded the cynics by swiftly arriving at consensus on significant aspects of the proposed Protocol, including the definitive ingredients of the general principles and basic provisions of the proposed Common Market.

With its good launch in Kigali , the HLTF process also attracted positive media and general public interest which was well sustained throughout the negotiation rounds that were held in 2008. With each successive round, the level of debate and discourse was taken to greater heights; and, one after another, major provisions of the Protocol were agreed. The spirit of East African oneness, of consensus and give and take, and working together for a common destiny prevailed throughout the negotiation process.

It is true, and as was highlighted in the media, the negotiations could at times get very intense and heated. What with some of the best trained minds and brains in the negotiations business, first being thoroughly briefed and instructed on country positions and then deployed in the HLTF process? The negotiations were nevertheless also spiced up, at frequent intervals, with rib rattling bonhomie, reflecting the level of mutual confidence, awareness and trust reached among the regional interlocutors over ten years of the reenactment of East African co-operation.

Consequently, during the Zanzibar round in November, the HLTF was able to present a progress report which was solid and substantial, indicating that a large body of the proposed Common Market Protocol had been agreed on many key provisions, among them: The Preamble; Establishment of the Common Market; Objectives and Principles; Free Movement of Goods; Free Movement of Persons; Free Movement of Workers; Free Movement of Capital; Right of Establishment and Residence; Free Movement of Services; Transport Policy; Competition and Consumer Welfare; Economic and Financial Sector Policy Coordination; Common Commercial Policy; and Approximation of Laws.

Equally substantial work, however, remained to be handled in finalizing some of these same provisions. In particular, important issues remained to be resolved relating to the provisions especially on land, free movement of persons, right of establishment and residence as well as free movement of services. Besides that, relevant directives, regulations and laws that would form an integral part of the Protocol remained to be developed. Some substantive provisions of the Protocol which were still outstanding in Zanzibar , including Social Policy; Environment Policy; Statistics; Research and Technological Development were, however, swiftly handled and concluded during the subsequent round held in Rubavu , Rwanda in December.

On the whole, the HLTF proceeded well on course. In the only major variation of their original brief to the HLTF, the Partner States agreed during the Zanzibar round to extend the timeframe for concluding the EAC Common Market Protocol to April 2009 against the earlier projected conclusion date by December 2008. The timeline for launching of the Common Market by January 2010 remained intact.

As the year 2008 proceeded to a close, the HLTF reorganized its work schedule to resume early in the New Year at the HLTF’s 7th round scheduled for 26 January – 4 February 2009 in Kisumu, Kenya to consider: Outstanding Issues; Roadmap for Developing Annexes to the EAC Common Market Protocol; Schedules on Trade in Services for the Common Market Protocol; Institutional Reforms of the Community; Intellectual Property Rights; and Other Provisions.

As at the time of this writing, there is a distinct perception that the members of the HLTF as well as their principals are agonizing with an acute realization of the sense of their strategic and historic mission. Their fear is that say, for whatever reasons or excuses, they fail to establish the Common Market this time round, the future generations would still have to establish it. In such an event, the HLTF and this present generation would have gone down in history as participants in an unconscionable betrayal of the hopes of the people, to be remembered only in ignominy. The HLTF therefore sees the next few months as holding out the only opportunity for it to rise to the occasion: give the East African people the Common Market they have long yearned for, and, only this way, put behind it the prospect of a harsh verdict of history.

By Magaga Alot,

The author was Head of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, EAC

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