- Trade tensions within the EAC bloc have intensified lately, with neighboring countries taking adverse actions against each other.
- In the latest development, Tanzania is blocking passenger flights from Kenya Airways to Dar es Salaam, while Burundi has officially closed its borders with Rwanda.
- Elsewhere, Kenya has been pursuing trade deals with the European Union and the United States, leaving regional economies to play catch-up
Heightened trade and political tensions between the East African member states are threatening to erode the gains of a free market and the dividends of a united bloc for a region expected to achieve the fastest growth across Africa this year.
As East Africa increasingly evolves into a focal point for economic growth and development, underlying trade tensions are testing the region’s unity to the fullest. As nations strive to harness the benefits of globalization, differing economic policies and priorities can often strains trade relations defeating the very essence of a trading bloc.
One prominent source of tension in Africa has been the divergent trade policies pursued by member states of the East African Community (EAC).
While the EAC aims to create a common market and promote regional integration, disparities in tariff structures and non-tariff barriers persist. The challenge lies in harmonizing these policies to ensure a level playing field for all members.
According to experts the success of East Africa’s economic integration lies in the ability of nations to balance their individual aspirations with the collective goal of regional prosperity.
Causes of trade tensions in EAC
Kenya in particular has been pursuing single deals with European Union and United States, in total disregard of existing regional treaties, and leaving other member countries to play catch up.
One of the latest cause of trade tensions in EAC is the drastic move by Tanzania to suspend an estimated 33 flights by Kenya Airways between Nairobi and Dar es Salaam every week.
“This decision is based on the principle of reciprocity, following the refusal by the Kenyan authorities to grant approval for ATCL’s cargo flights despite the clear provisions of the MoU,” stated Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) Director General Hamza Johari noted in a public notice dated January 15, 2024.
Row on cargo flights’ request by Air Tanzania
According to Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority, (TCAA), this body blow to Kenya’s flag carrier was in response a recent rejection of Tanzania’s request to allow its airline, Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL), to operate cargo flights between Nairobi and third countries.
TCAA cited the Kenyan authorities’ refusal as a violation of Section 4 of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Air Services signed between the two countries in 2016. This section provides for reciprocal treatment of airlines from both jurisdictions.
“Following this decision, there shall be no passenger flights by KQ between Nairobi and Dar es Salaam from 22 January 2024,” the TCAA public notice signed by Director General Hamza Johari noted in part.
The emergence of regional security concerns has added another layer to trade tensions. Disputes over resources, political instability, and historical conflicts have at times spilled over into bitter economic disagreements. This complex interplay requires delicate diplomacy to untangle economic issues from broader geopolitical considerations.
According to Human Rights Watch addressing trade tensions in East Africa demands a multi-faceted approach and will require member states to commit to comprehensive policy harmonization and create a common ground for economic activities.
Hours after the move by TCAA, Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Minister Musalia Mudavadi noted on X: “I have this evening spoken to January Makamba (MP), Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation of the United Republic of Tanzania, with regard to the decision of the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority to rescind the approvals for Kenya Airways to operate passenger flights between Nairobi and Dar es Salaam with effect from 22nd January 2024.
“We have jointly agreed that our respective Civil Aviation Authorities will work together to have the matter resolved amicably within the next three days. There should therefore be no cause for alarm.”
Kenya Airways responded noting that it is engaging “the relevant government agencies in Kenya and Tanzania to find a solution that will ensure there are no disruptions between Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.”
According to the Economic Survey 2023, Tanzania remains one of Kenya’s biggest trading partners in the EAC. Latest data shows that Kenya exported goods worth US$453.48 million (TSh1.14 trillion) in 2022, reflecting a TSh236 billion increase compared to the US$362.38 million (TSh911 billion) recorded in 2021.
Trade tensions between Burundi and Rwanda
Relations between neighboring countries in East Africa seem to have started on a rather strained note this year. A few days ago, Burundi announced the closure of its borders with Rwanda, escalating tensions between the two neighboring African nations.
The decision, announced without prior warning, has left analysist questioning the motives behind this abrupt action. While official statements from Burundi’s government cite concerns over security and national sovereignty, the decision appears to have caught the eye of international observers too.
This closure of the borders is likely to have significant implications for the people on both sides, impacting trade, tourism, and diplomatic relations. The sudden nature of the decision adds an air of uncertainty, and trade tensions in EAC as neighboring countries and the international community await clarification on the underlying reasons for this move.
Efforts to resolve the situation diplomatically are underway, with hopes that the border closure is a temporary measure and that dialogue will prevail in de-escalating the tensions between Burundi and Rwanda.
The incident, however, highlights the delicate nature of regional relationships and the need for open communication to foster stability, cooperation, and regional trade.
Trade tensions between Kenya and Uganda
In a similar move. Uganda took Kenya to the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) last month citing breach of oil import plan and the violations of the East African Community (EAC) treaty, even as Kampala called for adherence to bilateral agreements.
Uganda’s decision to bring the matter before the EACJ underscores the commitment to resolving disputes through established legal mechanisms. The EACJ, as the judicial arm of the East African Community, plays a crucial role in interpreting and enforcing the EAC treaty.
This move reflects the region’s dedication to upholding the principles of the community and maintaining a fair and equitable environment for member states. The outcome of this legal challenge could have far-reaching implications for the East African integration process.
As the case unfolds, it will be closely watched by member states and observers, shedding light on the strength of regional institutions and their ability to address disputes diplomatically within the framework of established legal mechanisms.
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Simmering trade tensions between Kinshasa and Kigali
The simmering tensions between Kinshasa and Kigali have exacerbated, straining the relations between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. The two neighboring member countries of the EAC have long harbored suspicions against each other, often accusing one another of fanning chaos in their jurisdictions.
Recent incidents, including accusations of supporting rebel groups and border disputes, have heightened diplomatic challenges between the DRC and Rwanda. Whereas the international community closely monitors the situation, this relationship worsens trade tensions in the region, further slow business and delaying integration efforts.