The Independent (Kampala)

East Africa: Kigali Debates EAC Defense Pact

Rwanda's Minister of East African Community (EAC) affairs, Monique Mukaruliza, on Feb. 05, tabled the long awaited Bill seeking to ratify the EAC protocol on cooperation in defense affairs before the Chamber of Deputies. This was in the first sitting of the Rwandan Parliament the Christmas break.

Pointing to how EAC countries like Burundi, Uganda and Kenya initially mounted solitary operations into Somalia, the minister said jointly planned operations in similar scenarios would help the region to pool effort and resources in a more efficient manner, to achieve more success than when "effort is scattered."

The protocol was signed by the bloc's five Heads of State, on April 28, 2012, in Arusha, Tanzania.

The process of ratifying the protocol has dragged since last year's Heads of State summit, where it was recommended that signatory countries should ratify the Protocol and forward the ratification instruments to the EAC Secretary General not later than November 30, 2012, for implementation.

The partner states, however, are now giving the process a renewed thrust. In Rwanda, government has requested Parliament to fast track the bill which is now set to go to a pertinent committee for further scrutiny.

Due to the international nature of the agreements within the bill, Parliament must first endorse it for the protocol to be effected.

Key objectives of the protocol include formulating, developing and monitoring policies and programs aimed at expanding defense cooperation between EAC Member States.

It is also aimed at promoting peace and security, as well as peaceful coexistence between member countries in a bid to protect the life of their peoples and their property; ensuring speedy prevention and management of conflicts when they arise; and promoting initiatives aimed at restoring lasting peace and preventing uprisings.

At present, countries in the bloc cooperate in defense affairs under the framework of a related November 2001 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Upon entry into force, the protocol shall supersede the MoU which is considered to be "inferior".

Rwanda's interests clear

The interests Rwanda expects from the ratification of the Protocol, Mukaruliza told lawmakers, include collaboration with other EAC countries with a view to safeguard and promote peace.

According to the Minister, for example, other EAC countries will be able to access Rwanda's facilities in the Rwanda Military Academies just like Rwandan troops will also equally, fully, benefit from Kenyan or Tanzanian military institutions.

When decided, troops in the bloc shall also conduct joint training exercises in disaster management, anti or counterterrorism and search and rescue operations.

The partner states undertake to negotiate and conclude a mutual defense pact within one year upon entry into force of this protocol.

House's support guaranteed

As the House started its first ordinary session of 2013, lawmakers endorsed the basis for the Bill but sought clarity on certain issues.

MP Julianna Kantengwa, the Chairperson of the Chamber of Deputies standing Committee on Economy and Trade, particularly sought precision on the value addition of the protocol, especially since EAC countries are already cooperating in defense through joint training exercises and other matters.

To this, the Minister reiterated that the current MoU is what is based upon in the current cooperation agenda.

Mukaruliza explained that the bloc's Ministers of Defense, for example, meet in a sectoral council and make resolutions on joint exercises, based on the current MoU.

Mukaruliza added: "Changing it [the MoU] into a protocol means elevating it and giving it more weight. In defense cooperation, it was realised that a protocol to replace the MoU was required because a protocol is binding to partner states. It has more legal weight than the MoU."

The minister told parliament that a mutual defense pact could not appear in a MoU, "because of its weight and significance."

"It [mutual defense pact] could not even be negotiated before countries agree that it should be established. That is why you see that it will be negotiated, later, after the protocol has been definitely approved."

The mutual defense pact will be negotiated 12 months after the protocol is adopted by all EAC members.

Like several others, even though lawmakers backed the bill, MP Gabriel Semasaka, a member of the House's standing Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Environment, wondered if the fact that EAC countries belong to different regional groupings, will not hinder the proposed mutual defense pact.

"Suppose a country like Tanzania has already signed a mutual defense pact in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), what would happen?"

Mukaruliza told the House that no other EAC member state has signed a mutual defense pact in the other regional groupings.

MP Emannuel Mudidi, a member of the standing Committee on Economy and Trade, was keen on Article 9 - visits and exchange of info.

Mudidi said: "Let's look at an example of the EAC and SADC, where Tanzania belongs to both, as an example. While sharing information within the EAC, what will be the limits? Here, I am thinking in terms of intelligence information. We could give out information which could cause us problems!"

To this, Mukaruliza said: "It is understandable that this is a sensitive issue.

"It is clear that no country will compromise its own intelligence especially in matters of cross border crimes, and other threats, but what is agreed upon is that whenever there is information that must be shared so that peace and security is safeguarded."

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