Political union project dead in the water, EAC focus on Somalia, Sudans

Saturday September 03 2011

[We are] resolved to expedite the process of integration so that the ultimate goal of a Political Federation is achieved through a fast track mechanism” EAC Summit, Kampala 2002

The big push for East African Political Federation, which was so hot two years ago, seems to be dead in the water.

[Read: EAC draft law for a single political unit on the way, but fears abound]
Regional observers say the priority that the Somalia crisis has assumed in the agenda of East African Community leaders, and the rise in the number of countries seeking to join the EAC has “sucked the oxygen” out of the federation project.

Only two African countries, Uganda and Burundi, who are EAC countries, have contributed troops to the nearly 10,000 African Union peacekeeping forces in Somalia (Amisom). Kenya meanwhile is working with friendly Somali forces to establish a buffer zone in Jubaland north of its border with its troubled neighbour.

For the first time, at its Summit in April, in Dar es Salaam, the EAC broke new ground with a strong statement about Somalia, in which they had some hard words for the militant group Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab partly forced Somalia to the top of the regional political and security agenda when it engineered two bomb attacks in Kampala in July last year in which nearly 70 people died and hundreds were injured.

Meanwhile, on June 15, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir stirred the regional political pot further when he wrote to Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza, who is the current Chairperson of the EAC Summit, expressing his country’s interest in joining the EAC. [Read: EAC leaders in a fix as Khartoum applies to join ahead of Juba]

The Republic of Sudan’s bid was a curve ball for EAC chiefs, because South Sudan, which formally became independent from Sudan in July, was always touted as the obvious next new Community member.


However, South Sudan applied to join early in the year, and was told to wait and apply to join after it officially became independent.

As of last week, EAC officials told The EastAfrican that Juba has not yet applied. The prospect of either one or both of the Sudans becoming an EAC member in the near future has thus further complicated the federation project.

Community leaders also seem to be taking a less gung-ho view of the federation. According to information available to The EastAfrican, at its April 19 meeting, the EAC Summit received a report based on the recommendations of the appropriately named Team of Experts on Fears, Concerns and Challenges (FCCs) on the Political Federation.

The name of the team of experts tells the whole story. At its meeting in Kampala in 2002, the Summit went big on the issue of Political Federation. Finally, at the August 2004 Summit in Nairobi, the EAC “resolved to expedite the process of integration so that the ultimate goal of a Political Federation is achieved through a fast track mechanism”.

The Committee on Fast Tracking East African Federation headed by former Kenya attorney general Amos Wako was set up.  It reported in 2004, to a very mixed reception in the partner states.

While support for integration and federation were high in the three partner countries Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda (Burundi and Rwanda had not yet joined the EAC), the numbers were disastrous, particularly in Tanzania, when it came to support for “fast-tracking Political Federation.”

Support for fast tracking was highest in Kenya, at 64.9 per cent, and was borderline, at 56.3 per cent in Uganda, while it collapsed in Tanzania, where only 25.4 per cent were in favour.

While Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, who had emerged as the fast track champion, put a brave face on the results, it was a mild embarrassment that the level of support in his own country was lower than that in Kenya. And while few admitted it, the 25.4 per cent support level in Tanzania meant that fast tracking was going to be off the table for a long time.

While that committee had a high positive brief — “expedite,” “fast track” — the “Team of Experts on Fears, Concerns and Challenges (FCCs) on the Political Federation” is nearly all gloom.

The summit, though, was undeterred, and directed that the same team of experts be reconstituted and be tasked to come up with proposals on how to address what EAC in its jargon calls FCCs.

The reconstituted team of experts is supposed to have a report ready for the November summit. However, even the most optimistic East Africanists no longer think that Political Federation is possible by the 2015 date that had been set for it.