Nairobi — The desired East African political federation, which has been on the table of the region's heads of state in almost all their meetings since the idea was floated in August 2004, would certainly take more time to be realised due to a number of critical issues that have to be tackled.
But what looks like a new road map for the proposed political union is that it would not be the same model of political federation that has taken years for the consultants to work on before putting on the table of the regional leaders and their advisers to endorse.
The EAC Council of Ministers, the policy organ of the Community, has agreed that instead of the EA Political Federation, what should be embraced should be the East African political confederation.
One observer said this could be more easily fitted in the desired political union than the former.
"A confederation, also known as confederacy or league, is a union of political units for common action in relation to other units," said Ms Judy Njeru, a senior assistant director (Political Affairs) in the Kenyan State Department of EAC Integration.
She told journalists from around the region during a capacity building workshop in Nairobi last week that a confederation, rather than a federation, would be easily embraced because it focused on important day to day issues being implemented by the East African Community (EAC) partner states, and that its implementation is understood to be gradual.
"Usually created by a treaty but often later adopting a common constitution, confederations tend to be established for dealing with critical issues such as defence and security, foreign affairs, a common currency, foreign affairs and international trade, immigration and labour movement among others," she said during the workshop organised by the EAC Secretariat in collaboration with GIZ, a German technical assistance agency.
Confederations also tend to work on matters pertaining to infrastructure development segments like aviation, railways, marine, navigation, shipping, roads, postal service, telecommunication and meteorology as well as in education, science and technology development.
Ms Njeru said measures toward this form of cooperation were already taking place as provided in the Treaty for the Establishment of the EAC. These include harmonisation of the EAC Education Systems and Curricula, Cooperation in Health, Sports, Defense, Peace and Security, Trade and Customs and harmonisation of standards, environmental management and other areas.
"A confederation, therefore, allows for the transitional stages to be used as building blocks towards the achievement of a full Political Federation", she said, noting that the idea of confederation as a transitional phase towards the full political federation was desirable " particularly since the partner states will retain their sovereignty and only transfer some capacity in identified areas".
She added that the EAC member countries; Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda (new-comer South Sudan is yet to be fully embraced in on-going activities) have agreed to implement the proposed confederation model.
"The coming into force of the EAC Political Confederation will have a major impact on the political structure, monetary and fiscal policies of the EAC partner states," the Kenyan government official explained, noting, however, that all citizens within the Community will have to be sensitised.
"In Kenya, sensitisation has been going on."
The confederation model almost took the editors and senior journalists, including those who have covered EAC consistently, by surprise although a decision was to opt for it rather than a federation was taken during a ministerial meeting in February this year.
Ms Njeru's remarks came not before she disclosed what did not surprise anybody in the meeting hall at Nairobi's Hilton Hotel - after an extensive survey done across the region it emerged no EAC member state is interested in the political federation, at least within the framework of an earlier model.
Political federation is one of the pillars of integration as stipulated by Article 5 (2) of the EAC Treaty. Various steps have been taken from 2004 when the Wako Commission was established to seek ways to fast-track the process until last year when the new model for the political union was agreed upon and announced last February.
The Commission headed by the former Kenya's Attorney General Amos Wako identified three areas to realise the dream; compression of the current stages of integration (customs union, common market, monetary union and political federation); overlapping and parallel process of integration and immediate establishment of an East African Political Federation.
Despite the encouraging results from the surveys and national consultations that took place in all the five member countries between 2007 and 2009 in which there was an overwhelming evidence of support for political federation, there emerged fears, challenges and concerns (FCC's) which had to be addressed that needed to be addressed.
It was during the landmark EAC Summit of Heads of State in Arusha - during which the Common Market Protocol was finally signed - that the regional leaders directed the experts to find ways under which the FCCsa can be addressed and tackled so that the desired EA Political Federation can be fast-tracked.
According to Ms Njeru, the FCCs have been broadly classified as political and legal, economic and socio-cultural.
The perceived bottlenecks had been identified by 2011 and presented before the Summit of Heads of State. The draft model of the structure of the desired political union was developed and considered the following year and by 2014 the process of drafting a constitution was initiated.
After some delays, the EAC Council of Ministers took a decision that given its weight, the political federation issues required policy decisions and constituted a sub-commitee of ministers responsible for EAC Affairs in the partner states.