Rwanda and Burundi have been officially admitted into the East African Community, which was originally made up of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The newcomers were previously regarded as part of the central African bloc, and some say the move toward the east was made for mainly economic and political reasons.
The admission of Burundi and Rwanda followed an intense campaign by both countries for membership in the organization, which today includes nearly two million square kilometers and over 115 million people.
Analysts say the new members will help the group increase trade, investment and tourism. According to Rwandan banker Charlie Haba, the East African Community represents an economic opportunity for his landlocked country.
He said, “We are opening up to the outside world, joining the community with countries like Kenya with big international airports…which means easier access to Rwandan products.”
Haba said the Rwandan business community is excited about the possibility of a customs union, which would ensure the free circulation of goods and a reduction of tariffs among five nations. But he has some concerns about what the enlarged community would mean for local manufacturers, many of which have high energy costs.
“They must be excited about all these goods coming in,” he said,” but the only challenge that I see for the business community, especially the manufacturers, is the competition....”
Burundian Security analyst Fredrick Gateretse says that his country having just come out of a long civil war, hopes to benefit from the stability of its neighbors and is looking forward to an end to shortages in basic household commodities.
He said, “Joining the bloc will increase the quality and quantity of the products that come into Burundi. Burundians will also be able to export their skills…. We will benefit from investments by large institutions in the East African Community that would have otherwise not been able to invest….”
Gateretse looks at the development in terms of trade. “Burundi will be able to trade with its neighbors…. Burundians will also be able to export its labor and skills…. It will also attract investors,” he said. Gaterestse says the move will be a big benefit to Burundians, who have just come out of a civil war.
But he said cited one drawback: “The people of Burundi have no purchasing power,” he said, “ which means that we are going to be inundated with products from neighboring countries….” He says.
The five nations of the bloc export mostly agricultural products, including coffee, cotton and tea. Many products are also grown at subsistence level, but analysts say if travel restrictions are eased, cross border trade will be able to open new markets to poorer farmers.
The Lake Victoria Basin, which is shared by all the member countries, includes about 30 million people, most of whom live in poverty. But the area is said to be ripe for investment by regional and international entrepreneurs.
The five-nation East African Community is working to bring its members together in other ways as well. Member countries are planning to sign an agreement that establishes an inter-university council for East Africa. The move would facilitate contact between the region’s universities and help establish academic standards.