Photograph — Panxchange

Rwanda has said that its borders are open to goods from Uganda, terming allegations that it placed a ban on imports from Uganda as “baseless rumours.”

Last week, it was reported that Kigali put a ban on goods from Kampala, particularly cement and processed products, further straining the relations between both countries. However, Rwandan officials have said such a ban has not been instituted as it would be against the East African Community (EAC) Common Market Protocol.

“There is no ban on any imports from Uganda. No one took such a decision. There are issues on the quality of some goods from Uganda, but this is handled by Rwanda Standards Board. There is no ban whatsoever,” State Minister for EAC Affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe said. 

The minister further noted that if there was an issue, it is on a “case-by-case” basis and not a ban.

To an extent, Rwanda’s response could help ease diplomatic tensions between the two countries amid incidents of security concerns. One such incident was the deportation of Rwandan national Annie Tabura, a senior executive at MTN, on charges of compromising the country’s national security. It would also quell the ongoing trade rifts among nations in the Horn of Africa.

Trade disputes in EAC economies

Collectively, the East African Community might be growing significantly, but individually, member countries are locked in several trade disputes with one another. The conflicts stem from emerging nationalist and protectionist policies, trend experts fear could hurt integration and have negative implications in and beyond the regional bloc’s borders.

In 2010, the five EAC partner states signed a Common Market Protocol which binds member states to open up their borders for the free flow of resources (goods, labour and capital) across the region.

East African Community heads of State (left to right) Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, John Magufuli of Tanzania and Burundi’s deputy president Gaston Sindimwo at the EAC Summit in Arusha on February 1, 2019. Photo Credit: Filbert Rweyemamu

Since then, there have been several cases of accusations and counter-accusations of flouting of the protocol rules among partner states. Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are currently locked in trade disputes over sugar, carrots and other processed products.

One of the latest incidents happened last August, when Tanzania banned and later imposed a 25 percent import duty on Ugandan-made sugar, following claims that the sugar had been sneaked into Uganda from Kenya. Kampala said it was a violation of the Common Market Protocol and the EAC rules of origin.

At the same time, the cross-border trade wars between Kenya and Tanzania escalated when the latter announced a blanket ban on Nairobi carrots in a bid to protect local producers from competition.

In the same month, Kenyans protested the arrest of milk traders by Tanzanian officials and in an apparent act of retaliation, Kenya announced that it would stop the importation of rice from Tanzania.

Nairobi also imposed new tariffs on Dar products like flour after the neighbouring country ignored a deal that granted Kenyan-made confectioneries unrestricted entry into its market.

Last November, Ugandan dealers in agricultural produce staged a demonstration, citing unfair treatment by Tanzanian customs officials who for months were unable to ferry and sell tonnes of beans and maize in Tanzania

An end in sight?

Kenyans recently took to social media to denounce unfair trade practices with Tanzania, demanding for retaliation as the relations appear to be getting worse.

There have been calls from the international community and other African regions, urging leaders in East Africa to address the longstanding trade disputes, tariff and non-tariff barriers and diplomatic rows in the bloc. However, following the summit of heads of state in the sub-region earlier this month, there seems to be no end in sight to the ‘trade wars.’ 

Just like Rwanda, despite experiencing substantial growth in local production, other members of the EAC should open up their borders without restrictions to imports from neighbouring countries.

It is high time East Africans accepted that competition is good for the growth of their economies.

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