As the clock ticks down on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s departure as chair of the East African Community Summit this May, opinion is divided on his legacy.
The region considers him the President who expanded EAC membership by overseeing the admission of the DRC, overseeing the region’s recovery from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the trade disputes between Kenya and Tanzania.
But critics also point to non-trade barriers that keep emerging; trade disputes between Uganda and Kenya; elusive peace in eastern DRC and poor Uganda-Rwanda relations.
President Kenyatta took over the presidency of the EAC from Rwanda’s Paul Kagame in February 2021, at a time before the the world was facing a global health pandemic.
His term ends this May, three months before Kenya’s general election.
He is expected to hand over the presidency to Burundi’s Evariste Ndayishimiye.
“President Kenyatta came at a very difficult time during the Covid-19 pandemic. As the governing body of the private sector in the region, we appreciate his role in ensuring cross-border trade continues despite Covid-19 trade-inhibiting travel protocols,” said John Kalisa, chief executive of the East African Business Council. p>
“He coordinated the response to Covid-19. The region has been able to insure itself against the lack of essential goods and services.”
Under the leadership of President Kenyatta, five EAC countries – with the exception of South Sudan – have African continental free trade ratified territory (AfCFTA). “EAC has received a 90 percent tariff offer required to trade under the AfCFTA. This is a major achievement under his leadership,” said Mr. Kalisa.
But it is the inclusion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the bloc that President Kenyatta has garnered most private sector applause from brought in the secretariat.
“He accelerated the admission of the DRC into the EAC. This is very important for the region as the DRC has the largest consumer market in the region today,” said Mr. Kalisa.
DRC is endowed with exceptional natural resources endowed, including minerals such as cobalt and copper, hydropower potential, significant farmland, immense biodiversity and the second largest rainforest in the world.
DRC applied to join the EAC in 2018 and resigned officially at the block on April 8, when President Felix Tshisekedi signed the instrument of accession to the treaty establishing the EAC.
His inclusion provides a combined market-oriented economy of 266 million people and one Gross Domestic Product of $243 billion for the region.
“The Democratic Republic of K ongo, which has the potential to open the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Trade Corridor and link the region to North Africa, Central Africa and o other continental sub-regions,” said Dr. Kevit Desai, Principal Secretary of the Ministry of EAC and Regional Development.
Nevertheless, the region has adopted a wait-and-see attitude regarding the elusive peace in eastern DRC. President Kenyatta recently chaired the DRC’s conclave aimed at restoring peace.
DRC has blamed some of its neighbors, with a group of rebels in the east sympathize with part of the country.
During a meeting held in Nairobi last month, President Tshisekedi asked his EAC colleagues to help tame the rebels.NTBs
The private sector and the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) blame President Kenyatta for the slow resolution of non-tariff barriers in the bloc.
“We anticipated that the Trade Remedies Committee would be in place to help resolve trade disputes between the Co to help organize. That’s pending. The NTB law has also been missing for so long,” said Mr. Kalisa.
According to the Customs Union Protocol, the Trade Defense Committee is to deal with matters dealing with rules of origin. ensure compliance with anti-dumping rules and deal with safeguards.
However, the committee, which is also supposed to deal with subsidies and countervailing measures, is still not operational 10 years after the proposal for adoption.
“The delay in ratification of the amendment by partner countries 10 years later was unfortunate,” said Hon. Marie Claire Burukikiye of Eala.
Critics also say that while President Kenyatta settled historic border trade disputes between Kenya and Tanzania, which has led to a surge in trade volumes between the two countries, he was not enthusiastic about Ruwan there- Burundi and Rwanda-Uganda are at odds.
In addition, a trade dispute has been smoldering for more than three years t with Uganda on importing sugar, milk and poultry products into Kenya.
“The trade war between Kenya and Uganda has had an impact on Ugandan products in other regions,” said Simon Kaheru , Chair of EABC Uganda Chapter.
“Industrial sugar has a large market in the East African region…Uganda has a surplus but cannot access companies in Kenya, Rwanda due to protectionism or sell Tanzania.”
President Uhuru has also been criticized for the way he handled the inland standard gauge railway terminal in Suswa, Kenya.