For the second year running, the East African Community Heads of State Summit has failed to take off on schedule. First postponed from last November to February 29, the summit has been put off again, this time at the request of South Sudan.
As has happened before, the failure to convene is down to a lack of quorum. EAC protocols dictate that quorum for the summit is not attained until all member states are represented.
Although South Sudan’s request is plausible—the new transition government is yet to be fully constituted. It will not be lost on observers that it was Burundi that caused a postponement in 2019. So whatever gloss politicians put on the slippages, the sense of uncertainty is palpable and mirrors the current politics of the block.
South Sudan is crawling out of a devastating seven-year crisis while this month marks a year of heightened tensions between Rwanda and Uganda that culminated in a one-way shuttering of the common frontier. Investors will not be blind and deaf to reality and will likely move to hedge their fortunes against political risk.
As expected, EAC Secretary General Liberat Mfumukeko has tried to underplay the likely fallout from the postponement. But he cannot change the fact that vital functions of the secretariat and even decisions vital for the forward momentum of regional integration will be or have been affected.
Mfumukeko has conceded that the secretariat will have to rely on the goodwill of suppliers to extend credit until such a time as when the heads of state can pass its budget.
More immediate for the wider public however, is that key items on the agenda such as the appointment of more judges to the bench of the East African Court of Justice, will be delayed.
Equally, nearly two dozen bills critical to the advancement of the integration agenda that were passed by the legislative assembly will not get assent as will consideration of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s application for membership.
Much as such postponements might not mean much to the politicians, to investors they are such a big deal when looked at in terms of the opportunity cost.
Africa is trading more with Europe and China that with itself because of low levels of economic integration. At the last count, only 16 per cent of goods produced on the continent were sold to other African countries.
On the other hand even what is exported outside the continent is mainly raw materials. Compared to regions such as Europe, 70 per cent of goods traded in European states originate from within the continent. That provides perspective to the potential for the region and Africa in general.
In terms of infrastructure, the economics of regional projects such as the Standard Gauge Railway dramatically change when one looks at a track running from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic.
A reversal of roles might be necessary if EAC integration is to be freed from the stranglehold of politics. The Heads of State Summit and EAC Council of Ministers should be made subordinate to the Secretariat which, notionally, represents the will of the people.