They say birds of the same feather fly together and that is exactly what the Northern Corridor trade partners of the EAC are doing.
Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya have decided to fast-track the Single Customs’ Territory (SCT) following a meeting in Kampala last month of the three heads of state, Kagame, Kenyatta and Kaguta.
The partial implementation of the EAC SCT for the three countries excluding Tanzania and Burundi was one of the biggest subjects on the agenda when the three men met in Kampala in June.
Rwanda was tasked to coordinate efforts of implementing the SCT.
The implementation of the SCT is one of the biggest projects that the five member states of the EAC are working on, but it appears the progress is too slow for some.
The EAC’s high-level task force on the implementation of the SCT has been consulting and researching on the best model for the five states to adopt. In a press briefing last week, RRA commissioner general Ben Kagarama explained that the task force committee is expected to present its findings and recommendations to the heads of state summit in November this year.
However, by the time this general report comes out, three of the partner states (Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya) will have already started implementing their own version of the single customs territory.
After the meeting of the three leaders in Kampala, observers expressed their discomfort that two of their colleagues were left out of discussions. Some posed the question to Uganda’s Museveni: Is the community splintering?
Museveni defended the talks, saying it was not a shameful act and that the other two leaders would be briefed of the details.
No time for dillydallying
On July 5, the tax body heads of Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya met in Kigali where they discussed ways of implementing the partial SCT for the three countries.
Several technical committees that are expected to do most of the donkey work were created, including committees on business processes, ICT, enforcement, legal and regulatory rules, and change management among the three states.
In practice, the three states envision managing customs on imports and exports at the first point of entry – Mombasa, Kenya.
Once goods destined for Uganda or Rwanda dock at Mombasa, clearing agents handle the declaration and duty payments at Mombasa and relay information electronically to inner border custom authorities of the countries of destination.
“This means once goods are cleared at Mombasa, they are free to move without interference up to the owners’ premises,” explained RRA boss Kagarama.
The three states agreed to establish a human resource committee that will be based at Mombasa to coordinate customs teams of the three partners.
In effect, RRA and URA of Uganda have already set up shop at Mombasa and are partially ready to implement the three-state SCT.
On July 23, the three tax commissioners visited Mombasa port to witness how their respective teams were fairing, exchanging notes on how to make the transition seamless.
The three countries also agreed to establish a permanent secretariat to coordinate the project and deal with all technical and administrative requirements of the SCT implementation.
On the 12th this month, the ICT platform of the three-state SCT is expected to be tested for the first time, two months before a report of the general high level task force on same subject prepares to present their findings to the five leaders.
It’s clear that two of the five partners, Tanzania and Burundi will have to play catch up to their faster colleagues.
Mombasa port vs Dar es Salaam
A Rwandan trader transporting a container full of merchandise through Mombasa has to cover Kenyan territory through Uganda via Gatuna and finally to Kigali, Gikondo Magerwa.
“It’s a very challenging route characterized by many weighbridges and excessive roadblocks,” says Fred Seka, the president of Rwanda’s customs agents.
According to Gerald Mukubu, PSF’s deputy CEO, there are seven weighbridges on the route between Mombasa and Kigali, four in Kenya and three in Uganda.
In addition to the irritating weighbridges, there are over 23 roadblocks, though Kenya recently announced it had removed those on its side.
Now, both Mukubu and Seka are hoping that the implementation of a three-state SCT will cure all these headaches.
Today, over 60% of incoming cargo passes via Dar es Salaam with traders pointing to the port’s improved efficiency in clearing following recent renovations.
Mombasa has also just finished its own project of renovating the port’s facilities but this has not yet shifted the traffic from Dar to Mombasa.
Will the start of the three-state single customs territory shift this balance?