East Africa Passes Bill on Transboundary Ecosystems

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Anita Matsika
February 01, 2012

East African Legislative Assembly sitting in Kampala, Uganda has passed the East African Community Transboundary Ecosystems Bill 2010. The Bill which sailed through the 3rd Reading now moves an inch closer to becoming a law of the Community.

If signed into law by partner heads of state, it shall ensure sustainable utilization of shared resources.

Apart from Lake Victoria, the largest of all African Lakes which is also the second widest freshwater body in the world, other shared terrestrial ecosystems of East Africa include wetlands, forest ecosystems and protected wildlife ecosystems.

Satellite image of Lake Victoria, one of the shared terrestrial ecosystems of East Africa

The Bill whose debate was suspended last year received overwhelming support when it came up for debate on the floor of the House. The Council of Ministers had in September 2011 during the 1st Meeting of the 5th Session held in Kigali, Rwanda, requested more time to consult. The adjournment was further stayed in November 2011 during the subsequent 2nd Meeting of the 5th Session held in Bujumbura, Burundi.

Key among the concerns of the Council of Ministers was the need to clarify the mandate of the envisaged Commission for the management of transboundary ecosystems vis-a-vis existing institutions. At the same time, Council felt there was an imminent conflict on matters of land given the fact that such matters remain a preserve of the Partner States as stated in the Common Market Protocol.

The object of the Bill originally moved by Dr. George Francis Nangale is to provide for a legal framework to effectively streamline the management of trans-boundary eco-systems with a view to enhancing the quality of the environment and also ensure sustainable utilization of shared natural resources in the EAC. It seeks to provide for the management and regulation of transboundary ecosystems to establish a Commission managing ecosystems in the region and other related matters.

In his contribution Gervase Akhaabi noted that the passage of the Bill would protect the livelihoods and manage the resources while Hon Christopher Nakuleu termed the Bill timely for the region if the EAC was to protect its natural resources.

Dr. Aman Kabourou however stated the law would contradict national policies. “ While I am not against protecting our shared eco-systems including Lake Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa basin, we have to be careful so as not to contradict existing policies and laws in the respective Partner States,” Kabourou remarked.

On his part, Augustine C.L Lotodo noted that the EAC Transboundary Ecosystems Bill clearly addressed matters of common interest in natural resources which EALA was duty bound to support. .

Lydia Wanyoto stated that the law would help the EAC harness its natural resources for posterity since it among other areas sought to manage future conflicts on the shared regional resources.

According to Sebalu the Bill is a well thought-out law that manages the transboundary ecosystem s for mutual benefit of the region. “It is important for Partner States to cede sovereignty so that expectations of the East African people are met”, Sebalu remarked stating the law fully acknowledged and complemented the national laws and institutions on issues of transboundary nature.

Other MPs who rose in support of the Bill were Catherine Kimura, Dr. Said Bilal, Dora Byamukama and Leonce Ndarubagiye. Dr. F.L Masha and Dr Kabourou recorded reservations in the interesting debate that lasted close to six hours.

The Bill shall now go through the succeeding stages of assent with the Speaker of the Assembly expected to submit the amended /Assent copies to the Heads of State for assent. Should it be assented (signed) to by the five Heads of State, then it shall become law.

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