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INTERVIEW: I believe in regional integration —Lawyer Rwandarugali

Phiona Rwandarugali

Phiona Rwandarugali is a practicing Advocate in two countries of the EAC: Uganda and Kenya (PHOTO /Courtesy)

KAMPALA — Lawyer Phiona Rwandarugali is one of the independent candidates contesting to represent Uganda at the East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA).

A head of the elections slated for 29th September 2022, she spoke to UG Standard.

QN: Briefly who is Phiona Rwandarugali?

ANS: I am a humble person with a passion for public service. I come from Kisoro District where my father was born. I grew up in Mbale, where my father still lives to this day. My late mother had roots in both Mbale and Karamoja.

Professionally, I am a lawyer, licensed to practice law in both Uganda and Kenya, and at the East African Court of Justice.
I have a desire to make a difference in people’s lives. That’s why I chose law as a profession and that is why I am seeking to serve at EALA.

QN: What prompted you to contest in the upcoming East African Legislative Assembly Parliament (EALA) Parliamentary elections?

I am a true and passionate believer in the regional integration agenda as it has had a direct impact in my life. I grew up in the border districts, so I got to witness at that level, the benefits and challenges of cross border trade and livelihood. The EALA is an excellent platform to fulfil my passion of changing the ordinary person’s life through impactful advocacy and legislation.

Secondly, I know the region. I have lived or worked in five of the member states; that includes Uganda, my home, Kenya, where I studied and work, Rwanda Burundi and Tanzania. I also serve clients across the border. This has given me an opportunity to understand the challenges our people face and what we should do to foster true Integration.

Thirdly, as a woman and young adult, I am a loud voice for women and young people. I know that we must play an indispensable role in this integration journey. It is our chance to contribute and to shine.

QN: Why did you choose to run as an independent candidate?

Article 50 of the E.A.C Treaty clearly lays down the qualification for one to run for election as a Member of the Legislative Assembly and the Independent slot is one of the available positions. It’s also because it resonates well with who I am as a person. I believe in inclusivity and unity of all. At Regional level we represent Uganda and its interests, its not about which party you belong to. It is about the aspirations of your country and the Community.

QN: Many Legislators have described you as the best independent candidate to represent Uganda. Why do you think so?

I think it is because I am the candidate of the moment. Aside from my personal story, I am qualified for the job. It helps immensely for a legislator to have my qualifications and experience.

Secondly as I pointed out, I am a cross border practitioner. This gives me an advantage to understand the barriers that affect cross border trade across the region and what can be done.

Thirdly, my life experiences have prepared me for this role. I am a child of the border from the districts of Kisoro and Mbale. This helps me understand the challenges of our people at that level. I am not just sitting on my high horse as a lawyer. I have also lived and worked in 5 of the East African countries. This appeals to my supporters in the House.

Lastly, my agenda is clear and pragmatic. I also speak fluent Swahili. I will make an effective legislator and advocate for Uganda.

QN: Achieving regional Integration is one of the Areas where EALA hasn’t succeeded. What do you think is the problem and what needs to be done to realize this dream?

Integration is a process based on four key pillars. These are the common market, the customs union, monetary union and then finally the political federation. We have so far achieved the first two pillars. Granted, there are issues of compliance which member states need to address and which my campaign has highlighted. Some of these have been well pronounced in the press, for example the closure of the border with Rwanda, others haven’t. We are now moving to the next stage which is the monetary union. the protocol signed in November 2013 laid down the road map to establish a monetary union within 10 years. It is hoped that by 2024 this will be realized.

So, EALA is not a failure but a process, to which I want to positively contribute.
I also believe that we should put competent people in leadership. EALA should not be a reward token for politicians. That is why my campaign has gained support from MPs across parties.

QN: What do you think should be done to improve trade in the region?

First, we need to change the mindset of our people. The EAC is now a very big market. A market is useless if you have nothing worthwhile to sell. Our people’s mindset needs to change so that we produce for the regional market lest we lose out.
Secondly, we should tackle the issue of regional infrastructure. Goods and services will move faster, improving trade.
Thirdly We should invest even more heavily in ICT to boost revenue mobilization and minise revenue leakage for the member states.

Then of course we need to address issues of security across the region. Business and Tourism cannot thrive amidst insecurity.
Lastly, it is important that member states are called to comply with the treaty obligations. Trade relations thrive when everyone follows the same rules.

QN: Recently EALA passed a resolution to provide for Swahili as one of the official languages of EAC, and in the case of Uganda that it should even be taught in schools. How important is this resolution to the region?

This is in line with Article 137 of the Treaty which provides that the official language of the community is English and Swahili. Cross border communication is central to regional economic relations. This is why this resolution is so important for Uganda.

I personally find it easy to traverse the borders because I can speak Swahili. I couldn’t be able to practice efficiently in Kenya if I did not know the language. It is a fact that all the East African countries including South Sudan and the DRC widely speak Swahili save for our people in Uganda.

You can imagine instances in Arusha when the leaders of other member states want to exclude Uganda, all they have to do is speak Swahili! This is not ideal and should not be the case. Earlier this year, in June, I was privileged to get audience with H.E the president of Uganda. I addressed him in Swahili, and he was visibly very impressed. He knows the importance of Swahili for his vision for the region. I want to believe that the President supports my candidature, as I believe in his vision for integration and the potential benefits for Uganda. That day he referred to me as the ‘Swahili girl’.

QN: What message do you want to tell the young people and women?

I encourage young people and women to get involved in leadership even at regional level. Women make up 60% of the EAC population, which means we are underrepresented at EALA. The treaty in articles 121 and 122 recognizes the role of women and their contribution to regional integration. We should not be left behind in the integration journey.

QN:  What is your agenda for Uganda once elected to EALA?

In summary, my Agenda is grounded on advocating for a seven-point program.
A more united EAC with more open dialogue rather than unilateral action.
A regional Infrastructure fund to boost free movement of goods and people.
Bolster compliance with regional laws and policies.

Increase investment in regional ICT.
Removal of remaining trade barriers to promote the free movement of goods and people across borders.

Expand Global Opportunities and access to the the EAC market for Ugandans,
A collective and coordinated approach to marketing and promotion of tourism in the region.

QN: What is your parting short?

I wish to thank the Hon. MPS that have encouraged me and supported my campaign. I thank H.E the President for his Vision for the region and for his support and encouragement for my campaign. I believe I am uniquely qualified for the EALA seat and ask the Honorable Members for their vote. I will not let my country down.

Jumuiya Africa Mashariki!

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