27 October 2013

East Africa: EAC Political Federation Taking Shape Despite Fears

Experts from Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya are meeting in Kigali to finalise guiding principles that will be used in the formation of the East African Community political federation, a high government official has revealed.

A team of political experts was early this month constituted in Kampala to draft common constitution to guide the future federation. The head of the team, Uganda's Internal Affairs Minister Gen Aronda Nyakairima, will present the report to the Heads of State tomorrow for approval.

Political federation is the fourth step in the East African Community (EAC) integration process after the Customs Union, Common Market and Monetary Union protocols.

The Monetary Union protocol is set to be signed by heads of state during their annual Summit in Kampala, Uganda next month.

According to Monique Mukaruliza, the national coordinator of the trilateral initiative that brings together Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, a lot has to be done before the three member countries federate.

Common defense, security, harmonised foreign policies as well as a common market protocol are among the prerequisites for a political federation.

"We need our citizens to feel and live as the same people... There should be free movement of people, trade among them and all these will once help to achieve a federation," said Mukaruliza.

She observed that during the summit a memorandum of understanding on the free movement of people will be signed. Apparently, only goods were allowed to move freely leaving drivers to go through cumbersome paper work while crossing borders.

Professor Augustus Nuwagaba a senior Lecturer as Makerere University said that though the three countries were focusing on fast tracking the federation they should consider all the challenges that can lead to its collapse.

"It's good to federate but there are issues that need to be addressed especially consciously making sure that all members equally benefit from the process; not one country reaping high than others," he noted.

Tanzania and Burundi will not be part of the federation since they are not part of the new initiative.

According to Niwagaba, European Union countries have stayed intact because they have equally shared the benefits of their union, He argues that the former EAC collapsed in 1977 because Kenya was considered the biggest beneficiary, leading other two countries -Uganda and Tanzania to protest.

"It has happened before and I think our leaders today are aware that there is a need to tread consciously to avoid that divorce again," he added

In 1977, the East African Community collapsed after ten years and the causes for the collapse included demands by Kenya for more seats than Uganda and Tanzania in decision-making organs.

In 2011, a team of experts released a report titled; "Addressing the Fears, Concerns and challenges of the East African Federation" among the five countries and founded out that there were some challenges.

According to the report, which was based on political, economic, cultural and social concerns of citizens from all partner states, concerns were raised about differences in land tenure systems of partner states and loss of land due to free movement and rights of establishment within the bloc.

The findings indicated that some member countries with huge chunks of unutilized land feared to lose their land to citizens from other member states once the political federation is put in place.

However, on Monday Tanzania government released a statement renouncing the trilateral arrangement between three EAC member countries calling it an illegal move that is intended to isolate one of the founders of the community.

The statement issued by the EAC ministry said the ongoing negotiations between Rwanda Uganda and Kenya were against the spirit of integration despite the treaty's variable geometry principle that allows some members to move faster than others in integration issues.

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