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Raphael Jesurum reports for BBC News
"Grouping together could give the countries more leverage"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 30 November, 1999, 14:16 GMT
East Africa's first steps towards union

East African leaders have taken the first steps towards reviving the economic union which collapsed more than 20 years ago.

After a year's delay, the presidents of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have met in the Tanzanian town of Arusha and signed a treaty to launch the East African Community.

The initative was meant to lead towards a European Union-style common market and common currency for the region.

Tanzania and Uganda were however reluctant to open their markets to Kenya, which has a stronger industrial base than its neighbours.

After a year of disagreement over the terms of the agreement, the treaty signed sets no timeframes for the removal of trade restrictions.

It states that the three countries will negotiate the framework of a customs union over the next four years.

Long-term goals

After that they may take further steps towards establishing a common market - a phase which analysts say will be the real test of the union's viability.

Monetary and political union have been proposed as a long-term goal, but officials have said this could take up to 20 years.

The initiative is an attempt to revive the East African Community which was established in the 1960s after the three countries became independent from the United Kingdom.

That union collapsed in 1977 as Kenya and Tanzania respectively followed divergent capitalist and socialist policies, and Uganda experienced ongoing civil war.

But politicians from the three countries have expressed confidence that the present agreement is workable.

"There is greater harmony now at the ideological and political level and greater mutual understanding," Tanzanian Foreign Minister Jakaya Kikwete said.

Rwanda is to be admitted to the community later, and Burundi has also expressed interest in membership.

Burundi peace moves

Leaders at the Arusha summit will also be discussing the future of the peace process in Burundi, which has been moribund since the death in October of the chief mediator, former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere.

Ten heads of state have been invited to the summit, including South African President Thabo Mbeki.

There have been calls for his predecessor, Nelson Mandela, to lead future negotiations to end Burundi's six-year civil war, but the 81-year-old has shown little interest.

The choice of a new mediator has been described by analysts as crucial if the peace process in Burundi is to be salvaged.

In the void left since the death of Mr Nyerere, Burundi has been wracked by violence and there are fears that the conflict could spread.
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See also:
24 May 99 |  Africa
Peace key to unlocking African economies
03 Nov 99 |  Africa
Burundi's deadly deadlock

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