East Africa’s free common market is not free at all. Seven years after internal custom tariffs were scrapped, a number of protectionist policies continue to pop up as countries try to limit the entry of foreign goods in favour of promoting local ones.
This has dampened the spirit of a free regional market and raised questions over whether the East African Community is working.
At a one-day private public sector stakeholders dialogue on strategies for enhancing regional compliance for national laws, which was held in Kampala on September 12, entrepreneurs raised concerns on the increasing level of business discrimination within the East African bloc.
They argued that whereas Uganda is promoting the Build Uganda Buy Uganda (BUBU) policy, government was not helping local manufacturers penetrate the national and regional markets.
While giving a recent incident she encountered at the Rwanda-Uganda border, Prudence Ukkonika, the proprietor and manufacturer of Bella Wines, narrated how her goods were confiscated and held for several days, and how she was forced to pay money far beyond the cost of the goods in order to have them released.
“Every meeting I go to, they are encouraging people to export. But it is very different from the situation on the ground. They talk much about this but they don’t act. If other countries don’t want to take our goods, then let them tell us,” Ukkonika said.
Ukkonika said Uganda’s BUBU policy has not helped local manufactures attain their dream.
“Every time they say BUBU,... BUBU... but BUBU is not helping us at all. Nothing is being done. Why are you allowing South African wines to fight Bella Wines? I worked so hard to reach where I am,” she said.
Santa Joyce Laker, a farmer of sesame, from northern Uganda, blamed the inefficiencies on the failure of institutions like embassies and East African Legislative Assembley.
“Certification is not a problem; the problem is our principles. We don’t have principles that favour us. We have institutions such as embassies....but they don’t promote us. Even Eala doesn’t,” Laker said.
Andrew Kaggwa, the country representative, East Africa Trade and Investment Hub, said non-compliance within the protocol is what is hindering investment in the region.
“People fear that if you comply, you lose out. The issue is how do we strategize as a country to benefit from the regional integration?”
A section of protocol that established the EAC Customs Union calls for the elimination of customs duties and non-tariff barriers to trade among the partner states.