South Sudan could be given observer status by the East African Community, and is now reviewing its laws on human-rights and governance before its application for full membership is granted.
The review would bring the country’s laws in line with those of the EAC — with regards to democracy and rule of law — which South Sudan has been accused of ignoring in the past.
“The EAC Treaty is clear on the rule of law, which entails human-rights and good governance. South Sudan has these laws, but implementation at the national level is a challenge, which is what they need to resolve first,” said Peter Mathuki, Kenya’s East African Legislative Assembly representative.
“What the EAC partners are addressing is South Sudan’s capacity to resolve conflict, especially on matters of accountability and transparency,” he said, adding that Juba’s laws were basic but needed to be followed if the country were to meet the requirements of Article 6 of the EAC Treaty on good governance.
An official of the EAC High Level Task Force negotiating the country’s admission into the EAC said that since South Sudan is a member of the Northern Corridor, which is part of the EAC, the country is likely to get an observer status at the regional level to give it time to fully prepare to join the community.
In June this year, South Sudan’s council of ministers approved the country’s bid to join the EAC but insisted its government needed five years to sensitise citizens on the benefits and risks of becoming a member.
The resolution would see the young nation maintain observer status for five years.
If South Sudan is awarded observer status, it will be allowed to attend key EAC meetings but cannot make or contribute to any of the decisions made for the region.
“Observer status will help them to see how the EAC works so that they can decide whether they still want join or not,” he said.
An earlier EAC verification report highlighted the xenophobic attitude among South Sudan technocrats towards EAC citizens, fearing they could grab their jobs and take part in criminal activities.
“Besides the xenophobic mindset, there’s limited understanding of the EAC and its objectives among South Sudan officials,” said the report.
Concerns have previously been raised over South Sudan’s adherence to respect of human rights and democracy.
In 2013, fierce fighting broke out in the country leading to the death of thousands of people. The conflict is still ongoing even with the recent signing of a peace deal.
“The current internal crisis in South Sudan does not augur well for its bid for membership to the EAC,” said Maria Nzomo, a professor of diplomacy at the University of Nairobi.
She said that all along the five EAC member states have been compromising with South Sudan on most issues especially on economic, democratic and social issues in the country to enable it join the community as the government is in transition.
She said that like any other country coming out from a civil war, South Sudan is still a fragile country especially politically and needs to be helped to stabilise.
For a new member to qualify to join the EAC, the interested member state must be committed to accept the community the way it was founded; must adhere to the universal principles of respect of human rights, fundamental freedoms, political and economic rights and rule of law; a member state must be within geographical proximity; must have a modern and market-driven economy and must also adhere to democracy and democratisation.
“South Sudan fully meets the geographical proximity requirement but is still building its institutions to achieve the other pre-conditions, which is why it cannot be admitted as a full member this year,” said the EAC official adding that although the verification report had said that South Sudan had legal and institutional frameworks that would enable it to meet membership requirements, these institutions were still in their infancy or not operational, prompting the heads of state to ask for further verification.
The other setback for South Sudan is its inability to observe the EAC Common Market Protocol, which allows for free movement of people, labour, goods and services.
Even though the domestic market of South Sudan is 70 per cent foreign owned, the country is still pushing for the survival and protection of its domestic industries for its people and reduce foreign employment.
In September last year, South Sudan’s Ministry of Labour ordered that non-governmental organisations, telecommunications companies, banks, insurance companies, oil companies, hotels and lodges terminate the employment of foreigners occupying certain positions.
The positions were executive secretary, personnel manager, secretaries and head of human resource department. Others were public relations officers, procurement officers, logisticians, front desk officers and protocol officers.
South Sudan applied for EAC membership soon after gaining its independence from neighbouring Sudan in 2011. However, the young nation’s admission to the bloc was delayed as member countries cited poor governance and its underdeveloped public institutions.
Among the other key areas the negotiation team is engaging the country on are trade liberalisation and development; investment and industrial development; planning, monetary and financial matters, involving the harmonisation of domestic and international taxes.