I thank you for the invitation to address you today. When you are in Rwanda, you have the freedom of which language to use in addressing people. That also presents a problem. In Rwanda there are so many languages spoken. Officially we are supposed to have four languages: English, French, Kinyarwanda, and Kiswahili.

But I think more or less by default we end up with dozens of them, combined with those four languages, because even the one who has chosen to speak in French, you will start wondering whether that was French, or a ‘hybrid’ of French and English. In fact some people start asking if this person is originally Anglophone or Francophone. And the answer to that is that the person is originally actually Rwandan, neither of the other two.

Then comes a person who has elected to speak in Swahili. That becomes a very serious cocktail because every language of the East African Community is spoken in that Kiswahili. Depending on who you are talking to, Swahili keeps changing. The last person you talk to in Kiswahili will be different from the next person. Every language of East Africa is expressed in that.

I just wanted to start by that because I want to tell you that we welcome everybody, and languages and things like that find a home here in our home. So you are most welcome.

I also wish to welcome you back to Rwanda for the 24th Annual Conference, five years after you last convened here.

The East African Community is the institutional embodiment of our region’s political will to integrate our economies and cooperate closely. Among our achievements are the Customs Union, the Common Market, and the ability of our citizens, more often than not, to travel freely.

Every aspect of the integration agenda is ultimately expressed as law. Without relevant legal frameworks, noble ideals can never be turned into reality. Of course, those agreements do not guarantee implementation. But they are a first and essential step.

It is therefore highly significant that the East Africa Law Society is not only the largest professional association in East Africa, but one of the most vibrant. I want to congratulate you.

I applaud this organisation’s commitment to the regional integration agenda over the past 24 years. There have been difficult moments but you have held together strongly. And there will certainly be more challenges on the road ahead. We are counting on you to continue in the same spirit.

The 19,000 members of the East Africa Law Society have made an affirmative choice to join and contribute to the East African story. This particularly applies to all of you here today who found the time in your busy schedules to participate in this conference.

Gatherings such as this one are what build the professional and personal relationships that help us all identify more strongly as East Africans, alongside our respective national identities.

I want to emphasise that your voices are very much needed to keep the integration agenda on track. Indeed, the survival of our East African Community depends on professionals like you. You are uniquely positioned to advocate for the benefits of fully implementing the integration agenda.

You are also called upon to hold governments accountable for respecting the common rights enjoyed by East African citizens, throughout our Community. Lawyers should constantly be in the trenches defending these rights and freedoms, without apology.

To deepen the economic integration agenda, which includes trade in services, qualified lawyers should be able to practice anywhere in the East African Community, removing unnecessary barriers. Let us work together to sign and implement the Mutual Recognition Agreement without further delay. This should be a win for all of us in the region and also serve as an example for other regulated professions.

I wish you a successful and productive conference. I also hope that you will find time — I was told you might be here until Christmas — I just want to tell you, as much as anybody thought it was a joke, but you are actually welcome. By that you will be experiencing what Rwanda has to offer, just as many Rwandans feel at home when they have travelled to our other member countries of the East African Community.

I have been told many times that Rwandans enjoy being in any of the East African Community countries. After all, as East Africans, Rwandans will always feel part of the family of our region.

I thank you for your kind attention.