Ruto woos Comoros to join EAC in quest for expanded bloc
Kenya’s President William Ruto is making his vision of a future East African Community clear with the latest offer to the Comoros to join the bloc.
On an official trip to Moroni on Thursday, where he attended the country’s 48th independence anniversary, President Ruto said Nairobi supports closer collaboration with the Comoros, an island nation east of the Mozambican channel.
“Kenya and Comoros stand as partners in progress, committed to deepening their collaboration for the benefit of its citizens,” President Ruto told his host Azali Assoumani, also the current Chairperson of the African Union.
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Nairobi and Moroni signed a General Co-operation Agreement; an omnibus pact providing guidelines on supporting one another on key global issues such as trade, climate change and blue economy.
It will offer a “framework which the two countries will establish structured co-operation in areas such as Trade and Investment, Transport, Education, Tourism, Agriculture, Blue Economy and Maritime Security to meet the aspired social — economic growth and Africa Union’s Agenda 2063,” said a joint communique.
President Ruto was accompanied by Salim Mvurya, the Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Mining, Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs and other senior government officials.
The two countries also announced they will remove visas on each other’s citizens by December this year. In fact, Kenyans had been travelling to the Comoros without visas for temporary stays even though the matter had never been formally declared.
The new reciprocal deal means work visas that cost Kenyans at least $250 per year will now be removed and Nairobi will be obligated to give the same privilege to Comorians.
Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs said in a statement the deal “brings practice to formal policy. It said it had been demanding certain visas from Comorians whenever they visit, something will now be formally removed by December.
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“On the principle of reciprocity, we had to standardise the practice between the two countries.”
An invitation to join the East African Community could give Comoros more blocs to push their agenda, including adaptability measures against climate change, and trade after it formally ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement (AfCTA.
President Assoumani’s star has also risen fast this year, becoming the first Comorian leader to head the rotational African Union chairmanship and enabling him to speak on global stages for Africa.
On Thursday, he told his guest Comoros will continue to play its role, including seeking African solutions to local problems.
Yet it is President Ruto’s subtle campaign to widen the EAC that is consistent. The Kenyan leader, though not the current chair of the EAC, has also invited Ethiopia to join and has been publicly supporting Somalia’s verification process to join the bloc after its application to join last year.
Comoros is already a member of the Southern Africa Development Cooperation, to which Tanzania, a member of the EAC, also belongs. Under the rules of procedure, applicants to join the EAC must share a border with at least one existing member. Comoros shares a maritime border with Tanzania.
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Expanding the EAC from the current seven members would provide new markets and enable more visa-free travels. But it could also come with new burdens. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the newest member, is struggling to contain armed conflict in eastern parts of the country and has been accusing neighbouring Rwanda of fuelling the crisis.
South Sudan, another troubled member has been struggling to stabilise after years of conflict.
Comoros, once an unstable island nation with frequent coups and coup attempts, is starting to stand on its own feet, but past scars mean it needs money to rebuild institutions including those needed for trade and integration.