Uganda stands alone on political federation

Saturday November 29 2014

From left: Presidents Pierre Nkurunziza (Burundi), Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania), Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda) at the 15th Ordinary Summit of the East African Community Heads of State at Speke Resort, Kampala on November 30, 2013. PHOTO | FILE

Uganda has been left alone in its push to fast-track a political federation of the five East Africa Community members.

Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi have broken ranks with Kampala and want to consult more on the report compiled by experts that was to be presented for adoption to the Heads of State Summit in Nairobi on November 30.

The political federation had been pencilled in at the top of the agenda but a ministers’ meeting held in preparation for the Summit left the matter hanging, with no clear recommendation. Usually, the heads of state act on what has been agreed by the preparatory organs that include experts, permanent secretaries and ministers.

At the Council of Ministers meeting, the four countries called for more time to consult on the drafting of a constitution for the federation and the timelines for implementation.

READ: EAC leaders meet to decide on constitution of political federation

Uganda, however, said such consultation was not necessary because the road map had been agreed upon and should be presented to the presidents for adoption as earlier directed.


Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi indicated that there were no concrete proposals submitted by the experts on the model structure for drafting of the federal constitution. They said the experts should be given more time to finalise the work and submit the report to the Council in four months, by March 30, 2015.

Uganda argued that experts had settled on a two-tier structure composed of the federal state and constituent states as the model for the EAC federation.

“The federal state will be responsible for federal matters while constituent states will be responsible for non-federal matters. In terms of structure, the federal state will be comprised of an executive, legislature and judiciary, all with functions based on the principle of separation of powers amongst the three organs,” said Uganda.

Uganda recalled that the 15th Summit held on November 30, 2013 in Kampala noted that the revised model structure, roadmap and action plan would be considered by the Council and submitted to the Summit.

READ: Rules on governing EAC federation set

Consequently, the Summit considered the progress on the establishment of political federation and directed the Council to initiate the process of drafting a constitution for the federation and develop a roadmap of what the constitutional drafting process would involve.

“The Summit made the above directives after considering the model structure that had been developed by the Secretariat in 2012 together with regional experts,” noted Uganda.

Under a two-tier system, the federation would have a leader, with partner states sharing foreign policy, defence, currency, economic and trade policies even as they manage domestic affairs that have no regional dimension.

The Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar to found Tanzania is an example of a two-tier system. Although Zanzibar has its own elected government, it operates under Union government policies in terms of foreign policy and international relations.

A one-tier system would see all member countries come under one president, uniform policies and citizens involved in electing the federal leader.

The drafting of the federal constitution is expected to commence after the Council and the Summit have endorsed the concept note and agreed on the model of the structure of the EAC political federation.

However, since the EAC has no referendum law, there is no need for an EAC Referendum Commission as indicated on the road map. The partner states can be left to conduct their own referenda under national laws, the results of which can be communicated to the Council and Summit Uganda has been in the forefront in the push for an EAC political federation.

READ: Sharp differences emerge over structure, timing of EAC political federation

President Yoweri Museveni in his previous remarks has emphasised the need to fast-track the political federation, saying that the region should not only be an economic bloc, but also a political one.

In his address last year as the chair of the EAC, President Museveni said that even if the economic integration were successful, there were certain issues that could not be addressed through economic integration alone. He said that it was not easy, for instance, to address the issue of common defence when you have different countries.

The Heads of State Summit was to decide on whether to have a political federation that comes into being instantly or one that favours a gradual and incremental process that will culminate in a fully fledged political federation.

Uganda proposes that the political federation take a transition period of five years to enable the development of federal institutions, but the other four partner states are asking for a longer period, to be determined later, as part of the phased rollout that will allow for the building of strong institutions, confidence and mutual trust among member states.

Uganda is also pushing for a deal that would see all member states lose their sovereignty as countries, a proposal that has been rejected by the other four partners who want dual sovereignty, with member countries retaining some level of sovereignty while giving up some to the federation.

The other issue under debate is whether all the partner states should join at their own time or at the same time.

While Burundi and Tanzania are pushing for all the five member states to join the federation at the same time, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya favour the principle of variable geometry, which allows member countries to join the federation at different times and stages.

Kenya and Tanzania are against the admission of new members to the political union, once formed and fully operational. But the other partners want the bloc to come up with criteria for allowing into the federation other countries seeking to join.