President Yoweri Museveni has been chosen to guide the process of drafting the political confederation constitution for the East African Community (EAC)
This was agreed during the 20th Ordinary Summit of Heads of State held at the EAC headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania on Friday.
The 12-member committee composed of two constitutional law experts from each member state, is chaired by Uganda's former chief justice, Benjamin Odoki.
The heads of state tasked the committee under the guidance of President Museveni, to produce a draft report within seven months time. The resolutions of the heads of state, were read by EAC secretary general, Dr Liberat Mfumukeko.
The summit, Dr Mfumukeko said, also received a report from Museveni on the progress of East African Community negotiation with European Union on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). EAC and the EU had initially concluded the EPA negotiations in October 2014. Kenya and Rwanda signed the comprehensive EPA in Brussels in September 2016 to pave way for its implementation effective October 1, 2016.
But Tanzania objected to the signing - citing the impact of Britain's exit from European Union. It was also concerned about the likely impact of the agreement on its local industries. Tanzanian President John Magufuli in February 2016 described the Economic Partnership Agreement as a "form of colonialism", and frankly stated that the deal is bad for Tanzania.
Uganda equally raised fears that the agreements could threaten the livelihoods of poor people through lower prices for agricultural commodities, crowding out of vulnerable industries, and loss of government revenue.
Museveni, as chairperson of EAC in September 2017 led a delegation of the regional block trade ministers to European Union headquarters in Brussels to raise issues that were derailing the deal. Dr Mfumukeko said EAC will further engage EU to get clarification on pertinent issues in the next four months before a final decision is made by member states.
Museveni hands over
Earlier, Museveni, who has been the chairperson of the community, handed over office to his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, with a positive projection of the community's future. Museveni said the East African Community has woken up and is now addressing core economic issues.
"For a long time with other groups like the World Bank, we have been talking about private sector-led growth," Museveni said. "But the private sector cannot come in, if you do not solve high costs of doing business. East Africa, however, is waking up."
Museveni pointed out that the community was now tackling the key cost pushers, which include high cost of electricity, transport, labour and cost of finance. The region, Museveni noted, must put more effort into addressing the cost of finance, which he said was still a sticking issue.
Both Kagame and Mfumukeko paid tribute to Museveni for steering the community well, since he assumed the reins in May 2017.
"I thank President Museveni. He has been very supportive," said Mr Mfumukeko. "He has always given me audience when I needed it."
The summit was themed "Enhancing the Economic, Social and Political Integration of the EAC." It was attended by Tanzania's John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania, Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta while Burundi's delegation was led by 1st Vice President Gastone Sindimu. South Sudan's President Salva Kiir was represented by minister for Trade and East African Affairs, Paul Mayom Akech.