South Sudan is taking the mantle of the East African Community amid pressure to show more integration credentials by giving more attention to programmes of the bloc.
And President Salva Kiir, who is due to become the new chair of the EAC Summit – replacing Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye, whose one-year tenure came to an end mid this year – could either use the position to prove doubters wrong or expose the soft underbelly of Juba on regional scale.
The EAC Heads of State Summit is set for November 23-24 in Arusha. On the agenda will also be climate change and food security.
At the beginning of the week, South Sudan owed the EAC $36 million in membership fees, but this was reduced by a payment of $7 million. While Juba remains the biggest defaulter – now owing about $30 million in arrears – the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was admitted last year, is yet to contribute anything to offset its$14.7 million arrears.
Burundi owes $15.5 million, Tanzania $123,694, Rwanda $7.3 million while Uganda is yet to pay $6.1 million. Kenya has the least burden with just $20 pending.
But the issue of paying up also reflects on the importance members attach to the bloc. For example, DRC officials last week said they had yet to see the best of the Community even though a government spokesman said they will stick in the bloc.
This week, lawmakers at the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) tabled a motion to call the Council of Ministers to suspend member states that are yet to fulfill their financial obligations. It met resistance in the form of DRC lawmakers who walked out of the parliament. The motion is expected to return for debate next month when EALA will be holding its last sitting of 2023.
Supporters of the motion said the Council of Ministers should implement mechanisms of enforcing the provisions of Article 143 and 146 of the Treaty for the establishment of the East African Community.
Article 146 of the East African Community says, “The Summit may suspend a partner state from taking part in the activities of the community if that state fails to observe and fulfil the fundamental principles and objectives of the treaty including failure to meet financial commitments to the community within a period of 18 months.”
A suspended partner state loses benefits provided for under the treaty but continues to be bound by membership obligations until the suspension is lifted.
“We are discouraged by the fact that although partner states are not compliant with the commitment to remit funds to the Community by December 31 in each year, the Council has not taken any action to ensure that partner states consistently meet their financial obligations under Article 132 of the Treaty,” the motion moved by Kenyan lawmaker Godfrey Maina Mwangi, read.
South Sudan is also facing persistent criticism from the EAC over its aloofness. A section of South Sudan lawmakers in the East African Legislative Assembly says the country’s minister for East African Community and Affairs Deng Alor does not attend parliament. Mr Alor last attended a session of the EAC Council of Ministers meeting in 2020.
President Kiir is said to prefer the newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation James Morgan to Mr Alor, when it comes to attending EAC meetings.
President Kiir takes over the reins of a regional bloc still grappling with the same old problems of non-tariff barriers, where intra trade has stagnated below 15 percent and the new burden of pacifying the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The 42nd Meeting of the Sectoral Council of Ministers on Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment, held in June in Arusha, was informed of eight outstanding NTBs at different levels of resolution.
The meeting was informed that South Sudan was still charging EAC citizens visa fees, specifically those from Rwanda and Burundi. But in a response, Juba said South Sudanese are also still charged visa in some EAC partner states.
Among the NTBs is a 25 percent excise duty imposed by Kenya on Ugandan table eggs and 25 percent Kenyan excise duty on onions, potatoes, potato crisps and chips from Uganda.
There is also the unresolved import ban and denial of market access by Kenya through non-issuance of import permits for powdered milk from Uganda.
Another NTB is that of 13 roadblocks between Nimule and Juba that cost Ugandan traders money early this year.
The EAC’s slow pace in the domestication and implementation of its own instruments adopted at the regional level is still weak and remains a challenge to be addressed.
Indeed, South Sudan is still unable to take full advantage of the EAC Customs Union (2015) and the Common market (2010).
Kiir is also expected to chair the ongoing challenges facing the implementation of both the Monetary Union and the political federation.
As chairperson, Kiir also faces the task of ensuring that the overlapping membership across the regional economic communities (EAC, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the Southern African Development Community) does not derail the EAC integration agenda.
President Kiir is expected to steer the regional bloc at a time when the region is holding discussions on peace and security, particularly in his home country South Sudan, where a civil war has ravaged it since 2013.
There is also the crisis in Sudan and the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where South Sudan has deployed troops as part of the East African Regional Force to help restore peace.
This week, the UN Security Council urged Sudan and South Sudan to respect the demilitarisation of Abyei and evacuate their forces.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefing the Council on the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), whose mandate renewal will be considered by the UN Security Council next week, said the outbreak of armed conflict in Sudan in April interrupted encouraging signs of dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan, putting on hold the political process with regard to the final status of Abyei and border issues.
“The presence of approximately 200 South Sudan People’s Defence Forces and South Sudan National Police Service personnel in southern Abyei, and an estimated 60 Sudanese oil police in northern Abyei contradict UNISFA’s mandate and Abyei’s demilitarised and weapons-free status, resulting in restrictions on the Mission's freedom of movement.”
President Salva Kiir who attended the 78th UN General Assembly Summit in New York, for the first time in 10 years, has however, appealed to the international community to push harder for peace in neighbouring Sudan.
Five months of conflict has displaced more than five million people and sparked a humanitarian crisis on the border between the two countries.
President Kiir highlighted the political, humanitarian and security challenges facing the country since 2013.
“I am appealing to the international community to avail resources to help refugees and displaced persons who crossed into South Sudan,” Mr Kiir said.
“In order to conclude the transitional period peacefully through fair, transparent and credible elections in 2024, we have also engaged in dialogue and consultation with various stakeholders, including civil society, women, youth, traditional leaders, and opposition groups, to ensure that our peace process is owned and driven by our people,” Mr Kiir stated.
Back home, Kiir is grappling with insecurity, corruption and a divided government following his perennial rivalry with his First Vice President Riek Machar.