9 January 2012

East Africa: EAC Political Federation Draws Mixed Feelings

As negotiations on the establishment of the East African Community Political Federation continue, a cross section of Rwandans has expressed concerns over the ultimate EAC integration process.

The stage is the fourth step in the bloc's integration process after the customs union, common market and monetary union, whose negotiations are equally still underway.

However, whereas some Rwandan citizens are in support of the federation, others have expressed reservations explaining that it could lead to a loss of national sovereignty.

Benon Kagabo, a first year student at Kigali Independent University (ULK), says that the EAC political federation, if effected, would help improve the quality of education in the region.

"Today, when you go to Kenyan or Ugandan universities, you will be treated differently, especially in paying different tuition fees. I think if we get a federation, under one President, all these things will be harmonized, hence improving education standards."

The Director of Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP) Prof. Peter Rwanyindo Ruzirabwoba, noted that individual EAC partner states still have various issues to contend with, including flaws in democratic practices, adding that such weaknesses needed to be fixed before rushing to a federate.

"We still have many problems to settle, as Rwandans, especially in ensuring unity and reconciliation among our citizens. You can't assure me of a successful political federation, when in Kenya, people fight over election results and, in Burundi, the opposition political parties have never conceded defeat to the current President who won the 2010 elections," he argues.

Rwanyindo explains Tanzanians have begun criticising the ruling political party, Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), saying it has lost popularity, a situation that may bring about tension and anxiety.

He argues that, for the federation to be achieved, the issue of tribalism must collectively be ironed out among all citizens to avoid conflicts.

The don says partner states should first harmonise institutions such as parliaments and adopt a single constitution before federating.

A recent report by a team of experts showed that there is a fear that political federation would result in partner states losing power and independence in decision-making.

The report recommended that citizens should be sensitised to appreciate that the political federation would involve ceding some sovereignty, adding that benefits should be highlighted.

The experts further warn that for the federation to be achieved, partner states should be prepared to cede their international legal status.

According to the report, many citizens raised concerns that there is no clarity on what model of federation EAC wants to adopt and, as a consequence, there was a significant fear of the unknown.

In an interview with The New Times, Elias Nkusi, a farmer in Gahini Sector, Kayonza District, says that the integration should focus on economic issues, instead of having one President ruling the entire community, which he noted should never happen.

"Having one president! How? We should not even dream about that. It shouldn't happen. We need our President and other countries should remain with theirs the community should concentrate on economic benefits," he insisted.

Nkusi says that to have one leader administer the region would undermine the sovereignty of individual countries, noting that those behind the move should forget about it.

Christine Mukabunani, the president of PS Imberakuri, backed the plan to federate saying it would provide a strategic platform for the political parties in the region to discuss their.

"We have many challenges affecting our political parties; if the region goes federal, it would be an opportunity for us, as parties, to discuss our challenges," she noted.

Mukabunani said, however, that though the federation is necessary, it would be difficult since some partner states are still poorly governed.

Speaking in Bujumbura, Burundi, recently, the EAC Deputy Secretary General in charge of Political Federation, Beatrice Kiraso, said that the EAC member countries had initially targeted to have the political federation by 2013, adding, however, that the process has since encountered many difficulties.

"The Heads of State will have to make a decision if they are still committed to the federation and how they want the region to move on. If they don't start by answering that question, the rest of discussion will be in futility," Kiraso told journalists.

However, before the political federation gains any foothold, the monetary union must be achieved as it is the third pillar of the integration.

A Kigali businessman, Celestine Makuza, notes that for the region to have the single currency, the central banks within the partner states must have adopt financial discipline to avoid a situation akin to economic crisis currently affecting Europe.

"It's good to have the single currency especially on the side of business communities in all countries. However, it would be better for those drafting it to look at what is happening (in Europe) and take lessons to avoid an economic crisis that might hamper our region," he says.

Recently, Ugandan Members of Parliament called for a delay in the establishment of single currency until some issues are sorted out. According to Ugandan lawmakers, it was useless to fast-track the monetary union when the customs union and common market protocols still have loopholes.

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