Fresh divisions have rocked the five East African Community member countries over the draft roadmap to the bloc’s proposed political federation, delaying consensus on key integration milestones.
Details from this week’s Council of Ministers meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, show that while all the five partner states desire some form of political federation, they differ on the modalities to be followed.
A report by the Council shows that none of the partner states want a “big bang” political federation (one that comes into being instantly) — and all favour a gradual and incremental process that will culminate in a fully fledged political federation. But even this varies from country to country.
While Uganda argues that a political federation will require a transition period of five years to enable development of federal institutions, the other four partner states are seeking a longer period, to be determined later, as part of the phased rollout that would allow for the building of strong institutions, confidence and mutual trust among member states.
Uganda is also pushing for a deal that would see all member states lose their sovereignty as countries, a proposal that has been rejected by the other four partners who want dual sovereignty, with member countries partly retaining some level of sovereignty while giving up some to the federation.
“Sovereignty should be ceded to a single political authority,” Uganda argues in the Council of Ministers’ report.
All the countries have however agreed that the presidency of the federation should be rotational, based on defined criteria, and that this should be a preserve of sitting presidents.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has long been the fast-track champion for the federation, emphasising that the region should not only be an economic bloc, but also a political one.
In his address last year as the chair of the EAC, President Museveni said that even if the economic integration were successful, there were certain issues that could not be addressed through economic integration alone.
He said that it was not easy for instance, to address the issue of common defence when you have different countries.
Burundi and Tanzania are pushing for all the five member states to join the federation at the same time. Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya are however opposed to this, favouring the principle of variable geometry — which allows member countries to join the federation at different times and stages.
Kenya and Tanzania are against the admission of new members to the political union, once formed and fully operational. But the other partners want the bloc to come up with criteria for allowing into the federation other countries seeking to join.
The proposal by Kenya and Tanzania could effectively lock out prospective members like Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, which have shown an interest in being part of the 140 million people-strong EAC bloc.
Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda, under the umbrella of the Coalition of the Willing (CoW), agreed to fast-track the political federation, technically overlooking the consensus approach in reaching decisions as required by the regional treaty, putting them on collision course with Tanzania and Burundi, who vowed to neither recognise nor support the decision by the coalition, saying that the political federation is to be discussed by all the partner states.
Tanzania warned that any efforts to sideline it while fast-tracking the East African federation could jeopardise the regional integration project.
Phylis Kandie, the chair of the EAC Council of Ministers and Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for East African Affairs, Trade and Tourism, asked member states to consult on these divergent opinions for a final decision by the Ministers in their next meeting scheduled for August.
Partner states resolved last week to hold further consultations and agree on the final draft of the road map before it is presented to the Heads of States Summit in November for approval.
The EAC Heads of States during their summit in Arusha on Wednesday last week, directed the Council of Ministers to initiate the process of drafting a constitution for the EAC political federation, ahead of the 2016 deadline by which the five members should adopt the political union.
The proposed political federation is to be governed under a two-tier structure — that of the federal entity and constituent state governments.
The constituent states will remain autonomous on matters that do not fall under the federal government while the federal state will also be composed of an executive, legislative and judiciary, with functions based on the principle of separation of powers among the three organs.
The powers and functions proposed for the federal government will be informed by international practice, where it will have control over defence and security, foreign affairs and international trade, immigration, infrastructure development, and the federal public service, among others.
The constituent states will be expected to implement federal laws and policies and remain responsible for and autonomous in all non-federal matters.
A political federation provides for a stronger political authority that would reinforce effective implementation of the other stages of integration — the Common Market, the monetary union and the Customs Union.
The Common Market Protocol requires partner states to ensure free movement of capital, labour and services, and elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade by establishing a common external tariff, and harmonising and mutually recognising certain trade standards.
However, studies show that countries still maintain various policies that contradict the spirit of the protocol.