The long delayed signing of a new trade agreement with the European Union further exposes the chaotic state of integration within the East African Community (EAC) bloc.
The pact, known as the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), was originally set for ratification on October 1, 2016, but, five months later, that is still to happen.
The impasse has split the EAC bloc. While Kenya and Rwanda signed the agreement in September last year, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi are yet to do so, citing the need for more time to analyse the deal.
The stance taken by Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi means that the pacts signed by Kenya and Rwanda are inconsequential – a new agreement with the EU must be endorsed as a bloc.
Tanzania’s President John Magufuli and his Uganda counterpart l have remained vocal against a rushed deal with EU, even as Kenya’s frustrations deepened given the risks of not concluding a deal with Europe.
“It is better if the signing of the deal is shelved until further consultations are made,” Museveni told a media briefing while on a state visit in Tanzania at the end of February.
Kenya stands to lose the most if the deal falls through. The other EAC member states – Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda – would continue to get duty- and quota-free access under the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative, since they are classified as the least developed countries.
This whole quandary shows how shallow the EAC integration has been, despite the bloc attaining the critical customs union status way back in 2005 and a common market in 2011. Integration goes beyond just having such structures; other aspects, such as trust and solidarity, are critical to moving things forward.
A review of recent key events in East Africa reveals massive levels of negative rivalry and mistrust which doesn’t augur well for the bloc. Things have not been well since 2013 when Tanzania fell out with Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda following the formation of their short-lived ‘coalition of the willing’, ostensibly to push for faster integration.
The now collapsed initiative was a terrible diplomatic mistake by Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya because it weakened the spirit of consensus and teamwork in the bloc. Since then, the chaos and mistrust triggered by this wild experiment has been evident in key issues involving the bloc. For instance, a new infrastructure and energy partnership between Tanzania and Uganda has left Kenya frothing at the mouth, especially after Kampala pulled out of an initial deal to build a joint crude pipeline with Kenya in favor of a route through Tanzania.
Kenya clearly feels slighted by the latest dalliance between Dar es Salaam and Kampala as was shown during the recently held election of a new chairperson of the African Union Commission. When Kenya’s candidate in the elections, Amina Mohamed, was defeated, Nairobi promptly pointed accusing fingers at Tanzania and Uganda for allegedly sabotaging its efforts to clinch the position it had highly campaigned for. Both Tanzania and Uganda denied the claims.
“Uganda wishes to state categorically that our support to the candidature of Amina before and during elections was unequivocal. Uganda wishes to reassure the government and the people of Kenya, and Amina in particular, that we remain a reliable ally and partner given our warm and close relations and our commitment to the EAC integration,” Uganda’s Foreign Affairs ministry said in response to Kenya.
Tackling the mistrust and clandestine power rivalry will be critical in putting the EAC back on a clear path to full integration which would help address challenges such as those being experienced in the elusive EPA deal. The big brother syndrome has no place in regional integration and all partners must inculcate a spirit of comradeship to excel.
Kenya and Rwanda must not been seen to be bulldozing the rest to sign a pact with Europe. Their decision to sign the deal ahead of the rest sent the wrong signal to other EAC partners who read mischief in the whole process.
Concluding the deal with Europe is critical for the EAC as it would help settle anxiety among investors. Business loathes a vacuum and efforts must be made to clear all hurdles to find a deal that would be favorable to all.
Cryptocurrency for Africans
George Gordon is on a quest to revolutionize the financial system. The director of Africa Master Blockchain Company talks digital currencies, blind risks and board games.
What is this new African cryptocurrency you are offering?
Where the majority of current digital currencies are based on speculative models, AfriUnion Coin (AUC) and the AfriNational Tokens (ANT)are designed for a transactional purpose allowing international payments, remittances, foreign direct investment as well as day-to-day transactions at local retail stores and other outlets. While the option for speculative trade is available with AUC, the focus is not around that.
Each African country will have a specially-designed ANT which will allow users to pay for goods and services and bills easily through completely digital means without requiring any bank account. AUC and ANT will be fully interchangeable to one another and there will be no fees for the user.
It’s the natural next step for digital finance from mobile banking which most Africans are accustomed to. The ability to freely have the power to send and receive money locally and internationally will allow the freedom of choice and spending power many Africans don’t have currently.
What is your own investment philosophy?
I am a gambler! I believe in taking risks and putting things on the line. That being said, blind risk or whimsical guesses don’t get you very far. Always acquire enough information to understand to a reasonable level what the thing you are planning on investing is or how it works and then trust your instinct and gut feel.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs wanting to invest in blockchain?
First, do some research in terms of what the blockchain technology is being applied for or created in terms of its application to an industry or project. Thereafter, check the white paper for the design of the platform as well as its functionality and applicability to what it is trying to achieve. If it aligns with your personal investment rules, then go for it,however, remember that blockchain is continuously evolving and thus you need to explore outside the usual and standard.
First cash-less, now card-less. What is the future of online banking?
If we are looking into what is currently science fiction, I would say the future is digital contact lenses that will be able to connect you to all your social media accounts, internet, news as well as make payments by just looking at QR codes or specialized barcodes to approve and accept payments.
Now, realistically we are not far off from such innovation and technology, but for the time being, I think the next step is scanning of QR codes at retailers and having the transaction automated from your wallet to the retailers digitally.
What is your most prized investment and why?
My mind. I believe that the work I have put into developing my mind, and continue to do so every day, is the number one investment that I have ever done. It allows me to look at things in a unique perspective as well as provides me with the tools to push boundaries and create new opportunities.
Money, success, fame? Which is most important to you?
I would have to say success… because it is most likely going to bring the other two as well, right? But success in the form of starting something and letting it grow and succeed and knowing that something new exists because of your efforts.
What do you spend your money on mostly?
Board games. I love board games and believe it’s a fantastic way to expand your mind as well as have fun with friends.
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Offering The American Dream
Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan of Atlantic American Partners were in South Africa recently looking for high-net-worth individuals wanting to invest in the US.
It’s a warm spring day in September, and Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan have just arrived in South Africa. It is Lippincott’s first time in the country, and he is jet-lagged.
A little over two months ago, he was booked to fly here from the United States (US) but was turned back at immigration.
“At Atlanta airport, the lady looked at Daniel’s visa and let him through and she looked at my visa and she said ‘I am afraid you can’t get on the plane because you have to have a blank page on your passport’. I said ‘I have three blank pages’ and she said ‘no, it’s supposed to be the one that says visa on it’. She said it’s the rules in South Africa so I had to sadly go back home… now when I was coming, I was told that’s not an issue anymore so I am happy they have made traveling into the country easier,” says Lippincott.
With a brand-new passport, he’s here with Ryan looking for people who want to invest in the US in exchange for a green card.
Lippincott, the Managing Partner of Atlantic American Partners, says he has always been keen on South Africa for its growth opportunities and prospects.
“From what I understand, the things that are causing short-term decline in the economy in South Africa are set up to provide long-term growth and hopefully people will understand this,” he says. Ryan, the company’s Managing Director of Emerging Markets – Africa, agrees: “I lived in Malawi for 12 years and South Africa is still considered the shining one throughout the continent. Even with all the problems, everyone still wants to come here because of the opportunities.”
According to an AfrAsia Bank report, South Africa comes second to Mauritius in boasting the highest number of high-net-worth individuals.
These are the kind of people Ryan and Lippincott target through their work at Atlantic American Partners. The company has real estate investors and professional private equity fund managers that manage money for banks, insurance companies, and pension funds. In addition, they help people get US green cards and ultimately US citizenship through the US government’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program.
“Basically we look for people who want to move to the United States and we help them do so legally by investing and the nice thing is, with our program, they are also able to get a nice return on investment,” he says.
According to Lippincott, for a $500,000 investment that creates 10 jobs for American workers, you could get a green card in about two years and be a US citizen in about six or seven years. “Twenty seven countries have an investor visa program but with most of them, it’s essentially a fee you pay, or you need to be actively engaged in the day-to-day operation of a business. For example, you invest $1.5 million in Australia, but you need to hire employees and generate a certain amount of revenue. One of the biggest advantages with our program is you actually invest the $500,000 into a fund. We act as a trustee of that money and within five to seven years, they get that money back with a bit of return on investment and you are a permanent citizen in the US.”
Atlantic American Partners invests the money in real estate developments like hotels, apartments and student accommodation.
“What’s nice about the program is it doesn’t only cover the investor; it covers the spouse and children under 21. Our biggest family was a Hungarian family with seven children so they got nine green cards for $500,000,” says Lippincott.
The company says it has had positive response in South Africa. “Two months ago, we were here and we had scheduled six presentations for 100 people and we ended up speaking to 450 people. Most were business people, people worried about the economy, people worried about the political future of South Africa and people concerned about the education future of their children,” says Ryan.
According to Lippincott, despite the news of the clampdown on immigration, the US economy is booming and will perish without immigration. In the era of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant views, that’s heartening news indeed.
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