By Lusekelo Philemon
Chairperson of the Summit of EAC heads of State, Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta, has called on security agencies and wildlife management authorities of the partner states to increase cooperation to stem poaching activities that he said are ruining regional tourism.
Kenyatta made the call yesterday in Arusha while addressing the 5th meeting of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA).
He said the recent upsurge of illicit trade in wildlife products, especially ivory and rhino horns remains the biggest challenge facing the East African region today.
“Despite our new anti-poaching measures, the challenge remains,” he said, noting: “…East Africa has been identified as the major source of ivories and a favourite transit route of this callous commerce.”
Citing examples, Kenyatta said between January and October, last year alone, over ten tonnes of ivory were intercepted at the port of Mombasa.
He said similar examples are true for all the other partner states, saying Tanzania’s statistics show that more than 10,000 elephants are killed annually and the latest Interpol report estimated a 68 percent increase in 2013 over the total tonnage seized in 2012.
“These developments represent a deadly threat not only to the livelihoods of our communities that benefit directly and indirectly from wildlife, but also to our tourism industry which in some of our partner states, contributes more than 10 percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” noted Kenyatta.
“Even more worrying is the reasonable concern that, the proceeds of this illicit trade may be feeding terrorist activities…” he added, and “…terrorism remains a serious security threat to our communities.”
He however stated that with deepening cooperation in defence and security, the bloc’s ability to respond to internal as well as external threats has greatly improved. Notably, the EAC Heads of State signed two protocols on Cooperation in Defence and Peace and Security expected to come into force this year.
“We are also establishing a Panel of Eminent Persons, which, together with EAC Early Warning Mechanism, will complement our capacity to respond firmly and quickly to potential conflicts in our region. I hope these will be finalised before the end of this year,” the EAC leader noted.
He also asked regional decision making bodies to expedite the process of approving the bill on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management to mitigate the frequent loss of lives and property in the event of natural and man-made disasters that have become a frequent occurrence in the EAC s elswhere.
“It will be to our advantage if the bill were passed before the end of the year,” Kenyatta said.
He also stressed the need for the trading bloc to build capacity for its own people to ably produce goods for the regional market.
“We must industrialise to build the wealth that will bring dignified work to our people, sustain our growth and abolish poverty,” President Kenyatta said.
“The surest way of addressing people’s challenges in the East Africa is through regional integration. I am interested to see people move freely within the partner states,” he said.
He added: “I want to see what we decide become reality on the ground. I am planning to move around on our border posts to see if what we agree on is implemented.” The Kenyan leader also suggested the need for EAC staff to work as one team if they are to achieve the regional integration agenda.
On EAC’s donor dependence syndrome, the Head of the EAC emphasised the need for the bloc to develop its own source of funding rather than seek aid that would take the EAC from its own hands.
He also pushed for new institutional review that will take on board challenges facing the trading bloc in its effort to realize its desired dreams.