THE JOURNEY TOWARDS AN EAST AFRICAN COMMUNITY; OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES.
By Kisaka Robinson
The agreement to establish an east African community was signed on 31st November 1999; by 7th July 2000 the agreement had been ratified by the original three partners of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. LaterBurundi andRwanda acceded to East African community and became full members in July 2007.
The stated role of the EAC is to secure ‘a prosperous, competitive, secure, stable and politically united East Africa; and the Mission is to widen and deepen Economic, Political, Social and Culture integration in order to improve the quality of life of the people of East Africa through increased competitiveness, value added production, trade and investments.’
In the past Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania enjoyed humble co-operation under successive regional integration arrangements which formed the precursor to recent agreements. These have included customs unions- Uganda and Kenya in 1917 and Tanganyika (Tanzania) later in 1927; the East African High commission 1948 –1961; the East African common service organization 1961-1967; the East African Community 1967–1977; and the East African Co-operation 1993 – 2000.
Recently the Juba and Khartoum governments have also been eager to join the regional bloc. As a result huge investment opportunities and resources such as oil are expected to appear. Sudan also has large areas of arable land as well as gold and cotton.
However up to now Sudan (Khartoum) is still facing the challenge of convincing member states due to concerns over its geographical proximity. In addition, Khartoum has not had mature enough institutions such as revenue collection and customs authorities, which may also take too long to develop.
For the Juba(Sudan) case even though they may prove their acceptability through geographical proximity, the state has a long way to go in fixing proper economic, social and political institutions such as a capital market, central bank, customs authorities etc. One outcome might be that the easiest way of Khartoum to join is to first wait for the Juba government to successfully be approved so that geographical proximity will be more readily granted.
Africans would like to see a successful move for the federation while not forgetting that it was personal egoism that lead to its original collapse in 1977. EAC observers though, argue that the factors that led to the collapse of the bloc in the 1970s are playing out differently at the moment and efforts to form a federation are being carried out under a very different set of political and economic circumstances.
Though the idea of EAC seems to be good idea, there is a fear among people within these countries who have up to now not got answers to the following questions:
There has been little or no attempt in each member state to involve its citizens; especially those in villages and rural areas which constitute a large percentage of the population. This is the number one barrier because presently a majority will not welcome the idea.
There is a fear that within the limited land in some states people may lose the little space they have. Land is a sensitive issue and may cause future conflict if it is not carefully considered. One example is that in areas like central Uganda (Buganda region) land is taken to be part and parcel of the human body. Similarly, in western Kenya and others it is also a key component of cultural identification. Also in Buganda most land is owned by the King (Kabaka). The land issue must be worked on if we are to enjoy regional integration.
In addition, some member states lack presidential term limits and this is an inhibition to the fast tracking of the political federation; federal demands are currently strong among some groups within member states like Baganda in Uganda. There is also a fear in Tanzania that she may be dragged into wars which its neighbors have had on the basis of their leaders’ personal differences.
The members and committees of the EAC should work on these following points before considering full ratification:
- Firstly, a uniform term limit for the presidential candidate in all five countries. At the moment some countries have five years and others like Rwanda have seven.
- Free and fair elections guaranteed by having one universal election body.
- Consideration of the problems of states which are weaker and fear suffering next to powerful economies like Kenya.
- The suggestion of a uniform army.
- From a political perspective East Africans are scared of losing their sovereignty. By 2015 some commentators predict political federation and the creating of a single state.
In conclusion, states shouldn’t hurry decisions over political federation before they have properly consulted the people. There is no need to rush for a federation. The states and stake holders should hold public debates and make decisions which are based on evidence rather than thinking by politically; unless that happens whatever their dreams they will never happen.
Opinion Piece by Kisaka Samuel Robinson, Kampala.