Six years since South Sudan was admitted to the East African Community, domestic problems, including weak institutions, have eaten into its will to integrate, leaving neighbours feeling the burden.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 but plunged into a civil war three years later. Today, even at relative peace, it has been constantly on the brink of war.
By joining the EAC, leaders argued back in 2016 that the country could tap into regional support, including the safety of neighbours with whom it could trade and improve lives. Instead, it has been a humanitarian burden, needing food aid and refuge for its fleeing citizens.
The country has failed to implement the Customs Union and the Common Market protocols, two of the basic pillars of the EAC. In fact, more than 18 months since he was appointed, the South Sudan minister in charge of EAC Affairs Deng Alor Kuol is yet to set foot in Arusha, the EAC headquarters where the council meets regularly to make decisions.
“South Sudan joined the EAC in 2016, with expectations that joining will be able to stabilise their institutions politically, socially and economically,” said John Kalisa, chief executive of the East African Business Council.
“But after joining they fell off again. The conflict distorted all the programmes, progress and projects because they even threatened the donors who were ready to support their integration agenda. So they created a lot of fears, because of their political risk,” he told The EastAfrican.
South Sudan applied for EAC membership in 2011 but the process of admission was delayed for a number of reasons, key among them internal conflicts. The country would be admitted during the 17th Ordinary Heads of State Summit in Arusha on February 2,2016.
In Juba, delays in the ratification of protocols and non-implementation of ratified protocols have combined to impair the smooth enforcement and execution of EAC plans.
Bloc decisions requiring amendments to national laws have often remained outstanding for a long time.
In terms of trade integration, the Customs Union is operational within the EAC - except in South Sudan, which is yet to fully meet the accession requirements to the EAC. It has missed the deadlines twice. DRC will have at three years to operationalise the Customs Union.
Adopt common laws
EAC’s establishing treaty doesn’t have provisions for expelling errant members as leaders thought members would at least show will to adopt common laws.
While EAC partner states have adopted the CET (common external tariffs) e-Tariff tool kit framework and the Single Customs Territory (SCT) procedures, which have been simplified and harmonised, South Sudan is still learning the ropes.
During the 39th meeting of the Sectoral Council on Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment held in Arusha on November 12, 2021, South Sudan’s National Revenue Authority observed that the country is yet to fully implement the Customs Union.
The meeting was informed that the Secretariat and partner states have updated the SCT Procedure manual to incorporate changes to the Single Customs Territory clearance processes that have taken place since 2014.
The changes include transmission of data through a centralised platform, multi-modal importation process, process for inland waterways/lakes to cover goods transported on ferries and process for temporary transfer of motor vehicles.
Common market protocol
The recently-released African Integration Report 2021 on the Status of Regional Integration in Africa reveals that South Sudan is yet to enjoy the benefits of a common market protocol that came into effect in 2010.
“The free movement of people within the EAC is a reality grounded in the EAC CM (common market) Protocol. However, whereas all the states have signed and ratified this protocol, national laws in South Sudan are yet to be fully harmonised to conform to it,” the report reads.
“East Africans can move across the region without the need for visas except in the case of South Sudan that is still in the process of conforming.”
Nevertheless, bilateral arrangements exist that have seen Kenya lift visa requirements for South Sudan citizens with effect from July 26, 2021. However, the majority of Kenyans visiting South Sudan are still forced to pay for a visa.
South Sudan hardly remits its contributions to the EAC yet its citizens and MPs have been accommodated in the EAC’s organs and institutions.
South Sudan was yet to disburse $27.4 million while Burundi had not disbursed $7.44 million by February.
Insecurity, extortion and harassment by security agencies of Sudan are also hindering trade at the Nimule-Elegu border post between South Sudan and Uganda, the busiest land border in South Sudan, where 90 percent of goods imported from Uganda are processed.