East Africa: Is EALA Barking Up the Wrong Tree for Autonomy?


A quintessentially East African form of politics is playing out at the seat of the East African Community in Arusha, as the Legislative Assembly and the Secretariat spar for control over operations and the budgeting process.

This week, EALA passed a budget that is over and above what was recommended by the Council of Ministers. The rationale for this move is that without the additional funds, the MPs stand to forfeit allowances they did not collect because of bureaucracy by the Secretariat.

That however might not tell the complete story. The Secretariat, like everybody else, fell victim to the lethargy that has pervaded the regional bloc ever since political squabbling among member states took centre stage just over two years ago. The Heads of State have failed to convene a summit for two successive years. Also, there is a dispute over whether the MPs are entitled to sitting allowances for the sessions that were held virtually at the peak of the Covid-19 scare.

In an attempt to break free of the yoke of what it sees as an overbearing Secretariat, the House this week tabled the third EALA Strategic Plan through which it hopes to secure autonomy. The MPs believe that this will give them control over their own budget and allow them to bypass delays in procurement.

Unfortunately, having financial autonomy does not necessarily solve EALA's problem.

The root cause is the source of funding which makes legislative arm dependent on the fickle contributions of member states. This has left EALA in a situation where it is at least 40 percent short of budget because member states have not fully remitted their contributions.

Without a predictable funding stream, EALA's bid for financial autonomy is dead on arrival. The MPs possibly see autonomy as vehicle to freedom to tap more funding sources but these have no long-term guarantee.

Also, unifying funding sources could result in a backlash that could see everybody lose out because the donor community, conscious of our foibles, did not want their contributions to create a hamper for a political class that is notorious for its excesses and governments that are never committed to their causes. The MPs are probably barking up the wrong tree and instead need to pile pressure on member states to come clean on their obligations to the integration project.

Underlying this dispute also, is a malaise of the impunity and disdain for controls that Africa's overpampered political class suffers. The kerfuffle represents a failure to appreciate the principle of checks and balances that was crafted to shield modern society from the excesses of a single, dominant centre of power.

To that extent, it is a mirror-image of the domestic national politics. With possibly one exception, the Executive arms of government in a number of member states is in constant tug of war with runaway parliaments that don't want any restraints to how they remunerate themselves.

The sooner the parties to the conflict realise that current standoff is mutually destructive, the better. Each of the organs has the capacity to stymie the other but all suffer the consequences of such actions. This has been amply demonstrated by the delayed 2020/21 budget approval process.

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