Is EAC political federation viable?


EAC Heads of State at a past meeting. FILE PHOTO | NMG

After having been postponed twice, the EAC Heads of State finally converged for the 20th Ordinary Heads of States Summit in Arusha last week. Now, according to the East African newspaper one of the main resolutions at the summit was kicking off the process of forming a political federation - the last pillar in the East African integration.

Partner states are expected come under one regional constitution and one president and its reported that a committee of experts has already been set up with the mandate of completing the drafting of the laws within three years, which will then be reviewed over a year before it is submitted to the Heads of State Summit for signing and promulgation in 2023.

It won’t be a harsh judgment to say that the EAC Heads of State are just building castles in the air. Truth is that the East African Community, overtime, has proven to be just a marriage of convenience due to geographical proximity and nothing close to an organic regional alliance that synergises on economic development, regional security and stability.

To start with, media reports have it that member countries registered hostilities amongst each other in the same 20th Ordinary Summit.

Burundi was against the election of Rwanda’s president as the new chair of the regional bloc accusing the Rwanda of destabilizing Burundi by sponsoring a putsch against the current regime. Rwanda on the other hand registered complaints against Uganda accusing it of abducting, torture and arbitrary deporting its citizens.

But one of the most indicting incidents was when the EAC partner states failed to come together and negotiate an economic partnership with the EU as a regional bloc.

Unlike the other member countries, Kenya was the only country out of the Least Developed Countries bracket and was therefore set to miss out on preferential access to the EU market if a new economic partnership was not going to be agreed upon.

The EAC Secretariat summoned member countries for a meeting in Arusha, Tanzania the host country absconded the meeting whilst the other partners showed little concern. Kenya was then forced to secure a deal as an individual country without other member states.

Also, Kenya’s economic hostilities with Tanzania continues to escalate with little intervention from the regional union. In 2010, member countries of the East Africa Community ratified the Common Market Protocol and a five-year implementation period was agreed upon for countries to have established free movement of goods, labour, capital and services within the region. But nine years down the line, member states still maintain restrictions on free movement of capital according to the latest EAC Common Market Scorecard oblivious of the fact that gradual process of converging economies of countries actually involves moving sequentially in the development trajectory.

Despite being touted as the most ambitious economic bloc on the continent, the EAC has actually been an unsatisfactory supranational body. Since 2012, EAC member states have been talking about financial self-reliance of the secretariat moving away from donors funding its main operations but it has in the past consecutive years been suspending most of its programmes due to budgetary shortfalls while a number of partner countries have not submitted their contributions.

So, the question that begs is what makes the Heads of State think a political federation is viable? In fact, looking at the timelines, the political federation seems scheduled to come before the monetary union. When the heads of state signed the monetary union protocol in 2014, they gave a ten-year time frame for the convergence of economies bringing its establishment in 2024.

What seems to be happening is that the EAC Heads of State have realised that their strategic economic alliance protecting their region’s interest stands diminished the moment the implementation of the African Free Trade Agreement takes effect and are now fast tracking a political federation for their own benevolence.