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By Zephania Ubwani

Arusha. Battle for the post of secretary general of the East African Community (EAC) looms large as two partner states plan to field candidates.

While Kenya has been reported to put pressure to have its national take over, South Sudan is said to front a candidate for the same.

The position of the principal executive officer of the EAC will fall vacant at the end of April with the end of tenure of Liberat Mfumukeko.

Rwanda’s minister for EAC Affairs and Chair of the EAC Council of Ministers, Mr Manasseh Nshuti, hinted at a likelihood of the two countries jostling for the post. Ordinarily, the position of EAC SG, who is principal executive officer of the six nation organization is held on a rotational basis.

The term of Ambassador Mfumukeko, a Burundi national, ends on April 25 after serving for a five year.

Protocol dictates it would have been the turn of Juba to nominate somebody for the post but Kenya is reported to have aggressively lobbied for its national to take the mantle.

Prof Nshuti was quoted yesterday saying both states were vying for the post.

“It has been expected to be Kenya’s turn (following intense lobbying by Nairobi). President Uhuru Kenyatta is ready to present his country’s candidate,” he said.

However, the Rwandan minister said on Tuesday this week they received an application from South Sudan seeking to have its national considered for the post. “It is now up to the Heads of State to decide,” he pointed out, insisting that the summit, to be held virtually, would indeed pick the new SG for the Community. Information that Juba was also fielding a candidate was circulating among delegates attending the pre-summit meetings at the EAC headquarters yesterday.

As the EAC braces to have a new boss, the 21st Ordinary Summit is set to give policy guidance on the conduct of its virtual and physical meetings.

The regional body had largely replaced its physical meetings, including sittings of its Assembly, with video conferences in the wake of Covid-19.

While the summit will discuss the initiatives to recover from Covid-19 impact,regional business leaders want admission of DR Congo’s to the EAC fast tracked. “DRC offers a large market for the Community small and medium enterprises to tap into,” said Peter Mathuki, the executive director of the East African Business Council (EABC).

He said in a statement ahead of Saturday’s EAC Heads of State Summit that the process to have the country admitted in the bloc to be speeded.

“We are urging regional leaders to direct relevant government bodies to fast track admission of DRC into the EAC bloc,” he pointed out.

Mr Mathuki said opportunities for trade in the vast DRC were enormous and can be fully tapped when the giant country joins the EAC.

Should DRC’s application get a nod from the EAC presidents, “DRC will in turn benefit from the larger EAC Common Market and Common External Tariff (CET) Framework.

EABC which is an apex body of private sector associations and corporates, also wants the summit to come up with lasting solutions toi persistent non-tariff barriers (NTBs).

Others are finalization of the comprehensive review of the EAC CET, harmonization of EAC domestic taxes and tapping into the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Through EABC, the business sector in the region has tabled a number of requests to the EAC Council of Ministers’ on-going session ahead of the summit.

The requests, according to Mr. Mathuki, are aimed to improve the business environment in the region “and an economy embattled by Covid-19 pandemic”.

Intra-EAC trade contracted due to Covid-19, a development believed to have been exacerbated by the persistent NTBs related to Rules of Origin and import bans by some partner states..

“We urge the EAC Heads of State to direct relevant Government bodies to fast track bilateral and diplomatic engagements to solve these persistent trade disputes and NTBs.

The partner states should also finalize the operationalization of the EAC Trade Remedies Committee. This will improve intra-EAC trade and economic resilience amid Covid-19,” said Dr Mathuki.

Total EAC exports decreased by 4.7 percent to $14.0 billion in 2018 from $14.7 billion in 2017 of which, intra-EAC exports accounted for 22.4 percent.

The trade deficit for the EAC regionincreased by 39.4 percent to $24.3 billion in 2018 from $17.4 billion registered in 2017.

The reviewed EAC CET will not only encourage more value addition but also protect priority value chain sectors in the six national bloc made up of Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan.

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