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Divisions Remain in Plan for East Africa Common Market

Kenya's minister in charge of regional integration says members of the East African Community hope to sign an agreement to create a common market at the end of the month. But divisions remain between Tanzania and the bloc's other members about several details of the proposed agreement.

The East African Community, which includes Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda has been holding negotiations on creating a common market that would ease the movement of people, goods, and capital, between the countries, and make it simpler for the bloc's 120 million citizens to take up residence or do business in another member state.

The agreement is set to be signed by heads of state at a meeting later this month in Arusha and to go into effect at the end of January. But following the most recent round of talks last week in Kampala, divisions remain between Tanzania and the other members over three key points.

The outstanding issues include whether to allow citizens to use their national identity cards, rather than a passport, to cross borders; and whether to allow a foreign citizen to establish permanent residence after living in another member country for five years.

But observers say Tanzania's biggest objection is to a proposal to allow foreign citizens to own land in other countries, which is barred in Tanzania.

Kenya's East African Community minister Amisom Kingi, says the two countries disagree on the subject.

"They are saying that land is not a common market issue and should not actually be contained in the protocol," he said. "But our argument is land is a major factor of production and there can never be a common market without land."

Observers have described fears on the part of Tanzania that Kenya's more-developed business sector and higher English language skills could overwhelm Tanzanian industry.

Tanzania also has the largest area of the countries in the block, and there is concern that the serious competition for land in the other countries, could lead to land-grabbing in Tanzania.

Kenyan economist Wahome Gakuruh also suggests that Tanzania is more interested in integration with the Southern African Development Community, of which it is a member, and which includes South Africa the continent's largest economy.

Kenyan minister Kingi said regional integration requires a change of mindset about national sovereignty.

"We need to realize that the more we hang on our national identities, then the more difficult it will become for us to integrate," he said. "The sooner we realize that the integration process is all about shedding some of our sovereignty, because the two cannot go hand in hand. We cannot hang on our sovereignty and at the same time journey towards integration."

If an agreement is not reached by the by the end of the month, then Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi could decide to proceed without Tanzania on the outstanding issues.

But that route would not be a good omen for plans for further integration in the East African Community, which include a single currency and, eventually, a political union.