Tussle heats up over regional court of justice

Saturday January 25 2020

The East African Court of Justice in session. It was established in 1999, inaugurated in November 2001 and heard its first case in 2005. It has two chambers. FILE PHOTO | NMG


Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are locked in a tussle over who should host the East African Court of Justice (EACJ), straining relations among the three founder members of the regional bloc.

The court, currently based in Arusha, Tanzania, hears cases on violations of the rule of law, a key principle in the East African Community (EAC) Treaty.

The EACJ was established in 1999, inaugurated in November 2001 and heard its first case in 2005. It has two chambers.

Nairobi, Kampala and Arusha have been fighting to house headquarters of the court, with an eye on the millions of dollars economic boost that come with hosting the institution.

In a classic case of horse trading, Kenya is reported to have offered to pull out of the running to host EACJ headquarters on condition that it is allowed to house agencies created under the EAC Monetary Union Protocol.

If agreed upon, the compromise will leave the battle for EACJ between Uganda and Tanzania.


The EAC has three organs and nine semi-autonomous institutions that help it implement its mandate. They include the Secretariat, EACJ and the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), all currently located in Arusha.

Monetary Union institutions include EAC Monetary Institute formed under the EAMU protocol, but whose Bill is yet to be assented to by the EAC Summit.

The monetary institutions are awaiting approval at the next EAC heads of state summit tentatively scheduled for next month.

An official in Uganda’s East African Community Affairs ministry confirmed to The EastAfrican that Kampala has applied to host the EACJ.

Countries that host the EAC organs and institutions benefit from associated expenditures in terms of accommodation, rent, conferences and other local purchases that add up to about 30 per cent of the total budget allocation to the EAC.

A study on ‘Equitable Distribution on Benefits and Costs” reveals average annual grants to EAC for the last 8 years were $72,928,700.

The EAC, comprising of six members Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan, boasts a single market of over 163 million people and a combined GDP of about $146 billion.

However, a skewed distribution of top EAC organs in favour of Tanzania has lately raised murmurs among member countries, who contribute equally to the common kitty. Tanzania and Uganda have the lion’s share of the EAC organs and institutions situated in their countries.

Besides the Secretariat, EACJ and EALA, Tanzania also hosts two EAC institutions—the East African Kiswahili Commission and the Competition Authority.

However, both EACJ and EALA are being hosted in Arusha temporarily until the summit determines their permanent home.

Uganda is host to: Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency, the East African Development Bank, the Inter-University Council for East Africa and Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation.

While Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi host one institution each: Lake Victoria Basin Commission in Kisumu, the East African Science and Technology Commission in Kigali and the EAC Health Research Commission in Bujumbura, South Sudan has none.

Estimation of benefits show an unequal share in terms of net gains from intra-trade and hosting of EAC Organs and Institutions with small Partner States (Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan) gaining the least.

A study on “Equitable Distribution on Benefits and Costs”, commissioned by the Secretariat in the 2008 that would be used to guide the decision, is not yet concluded, widening a rift between Tanzania and Uganda, who are now angling to host the EACJ.

The EAC Council of Ministers, currently chaired by Rwanda’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Dr Vincent Biruta, has expressed concern over the delay in concluding the study.

In a report that will be presented to the Heads of State Summit in February, the Council of Ministers has directed the Secretariat to table the findings this year to enable the summit make its decision.

“The Council recalled that on considering the requests by the Kenya and Uganda to host the Permanent Seat of the court, the Council in its 33rd meeting deferred consideration of any proposal to host the EACJ until the study on Equitable distribution on benefits and costs is finalised,” says the report signed by all six EAC ministers responsible for EAC affairs dated November 2019.

“The Council directed the Secretariat to conclude the Equitable Distribution of Benefits and costs and report to the 41st Extraordinary Meeting of the Council.”

The EAC collapsed in 1977 largely as a result of concerns over the inequitable sharing of costs and benefits of regional integration and demands by Kenya for more seats than Uganda and Tanzania in decision-making organs, a move the EAC wants to avoid.

According to the ‘Equitable Distribution on Benefits and Costs’ draft report, the existing criteria for hosting EAC organs and institutions includes provision of land but none for equitable sharing.

Under the existing mechanism for distribution, the current budget model is that partner states contribute equally to the Secretariat’s budget.

Further, under article 7(f) the Treaty which calls for “equitable distribution of benefits accruing or to be derived from the operations of the Community and measures to address economic imbalances that may arise from such operations”.

It remains to be seen whether the final report will eventually be tabled and implemented to stem the murmurs from the Six EAC Partner States.