Charges for telephone calls across the five-member states of the East African Community (EAC) are set to reduce by July this year, when countries abolish roaming fees following a directive by the Heads of State.

In a communiqué read by the EAC Secretary-General Dr. Richard Sezibera at the conclusion of the 16th Heads of State Summit in Nairobi, resolved among other issues that, following the implementation of the One Network Area by Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, all the EAC countries should harmonize their calling rates on all networks this July.

The five heads of state, who included the current chair of EAC, Presidents Jakaya Kitwete(Tanzania), Uhuru Kenyatta,(Kenya), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Pierre Nkurunziza(Burundi) and Paul Kagame(Rwanda), noted that the high cost of roaming calls within the East African partner countries was unnecessary and an impediment to trade and communication within the region’s community.” It is unacceptable that calling outside our continent is much cheaper than communicating within the region,” said Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Call charges within the network have already declined by 12US cents per minute while there are no charges for incoming calls since the One Network Area was implemented last year.

During the two-day summit, president Uhuru handed over the EAC Chair to President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete of Tanzania, who thanked his predecessor for a job well done.

The EAC Heads of State Summit is a meeting of the Heads of State of the five EAC Partner States which are; The Republic of Burundi, the Republic of Kenya, the Republic of Rwanda, the United Republic of Tanzania, and the Republic of Uganda. At the Summit, The Heads of State meet to review and ratify the annual report and recommendations of the EAC Council of Ministers and subsequently issue a joint communiqué that binds the partner states on the decisions made.

Primarily, the Summit is normally appraised on the milestones made during the last one year under the four key drivers of EAC integration process namely; the Common Market, Customs Union, Monetary Union and Political Federation.

The EAC Heads of State also launched the EAC Video Conferencing System, where they communicated to the ICT ministers from the Five-Member States. President Kikwete remarked after the successful launch; “EAC has come of age, and we are moving forward with technology”.

On the implementation of the Political Federation, the Summit pushed to the next summit, pending consultations amongst the partner states. In order to avoid delays in the implementation of integration matters, the EAC Heads of State directed the secretariat to provide the partner states with a list of all protocols that have not yet been ratified for expedition on ratifying them. Key among them is the Defense Cooperation Protocol and the EAC Peace and Security Protocol. Kenya and Tanzania are lagging behind on ratifying the two protocols.

At the Summit, the EAC Heads of State approved the key priority interventions to be implemented over the 2015/16 financial year as drawn up by the council of ministers. Key among them are the establishment of the East African Monetary Institute and the East African Statistics Bureau to support the transition to a single currency; consolidating of the Single Customs Territory; enhanced implementation of the EAC Common Market Protocol; implementation of the roadmap on the constitution making process for the East African Community Political Federation and the development of cross-border infrastructure.

South Sudan’s bid to join the EAC was jolted by the on-going controversy between him and his former deputy Mr. Riaek Machar. The Heads of State called on the two leaders; President Salva Kiir, who attended the summit as a special guest and his rival Mr. Machar to end their hostilities, for his country to qualify to be admitted as the sixth member state by August this year.

A report presented to the EAC Presidents earlier indicated that the war-torn country had qualified in few areas to join the community. These are geographical proximity, market driven economy, compatibilities in social and economic policies and potential contribution to the strengthening of integration.

In his address, President Kenyatta said the Community has continued to perform encouraginglyAs a result, several critical milestones have been achieved in the integration processFor instance, intra-EAC trade grew from 3.5 billion in 2009 to about 5.8 billion Dollars in 2013.  This points strongly to the possibility and opportunity for higher volumes of trade across our bordersHe commended the region’s business community for embracing the vast opportunities which come with integration, and encouraged them to make greater use of them.  This will create more wealth and deliver more jobs for our young population.

“The impressive growth and promise of intra-Community trade has been accompanied and underpinned by greater regional connectivity through enabling infrastructure development,” stressed the President.  Over the last 2 years,he added, projects and programmes designed to promote intensive integration have been completed.  Encouragingly, work has commenced on several cross-border roadsThe Voi-Taveta-Arusharoad and numerous sections of the Northern and Central Corridors are notable examples.

President Kenyatta thanked the Summit Heads of State for their determined,committed, inspired and visionary leadership.  I also appreciate the excellent work of our Council of Ministers in faithfully executing our directives and resolutions. This has gone a long way in ensuring that we made progress on various fronts, he said.