The move by the regional Assembly to pass a Bill seeking to have East African countries jointly manage their tourism and wildlife sectors is laudable and could not have come at a better time.
This is particularly because the recent global financial crisis has exposed the dangers of the region’s traditional reliance on commodity exports and service sectors such as tourism could provide much needed safety nets in the face of such uncertainty.
Currently, commodity exports form a greater share of the EAC economies — on average 20–25 per cent of GDP compared to 10–15 per cent in the 1980s and 15–20 per cent in the 1990s.
This makes regional economies more vulnerable to external demand.
Though tourism forms a potential revenue stream, uncoordinated marketing and promotion of the sector has denied the region the opportunity, leaving players in rival markets such as South Africa having a field day.
With such glaring lapses the passing of the Bill should provide a boost to ongoing initiatives in which EAC countries are seeking to jointly marketing the region as a tourism destination.
But this would only happen if the regional Heads of State moved with speed and assented to the Bill to allow for its operationalisation into law even as member countries of the EAC looked up to solidifying growth under the EAC common market arrangement.
Already tourism is one the productive sectors identified under the areas of co-operation agreed upon by partner States in their current third EAC 2006-2010 development strategy set to end this year.
By coming into law, the Bill would greatly help member States in the adoption of a common approach to the protection of wildlife resources from illegal use and practice, adopting an approach for participation in regional and international treaties on wildlife conservation and management and enhance capacity building in the sector.
A lot of common ground has already been found in several fronts such as the harmonisation of the classification of hospitality industry facilities such as hotels and all indications are that the plans for joint management of the regional tourism sector could work.
Kenya has for instance just concluding the training of assessors to handle the task and other partners have similarly made major strides towards this end.
It is now up to the regional Heads of State to move this a notch higher by having in place a law that would help the realisation of the proposed East African Tourism and Wildlife Management Commission that would co-ordinate the development of the tourism sector in the region.
This, however, requires political commitment from the respective five States because of the wrangles that are likely to occur over the joint management of the sector.
A case in point is the ongoing difference between Kenya and Tanzania over the ban on ivory trade.
Several tussles have also often emerged on taxation levels across the member countries and must be addressed in totality as the member countries walk towards a fully fledged common market.