The East African Federation: is this the next step for the East African Community?

Musonye Collins Tieni The East African Commission (EAC) is a regional inter-governmental organization uniting its seven partner states with the ultimate goal of establishing a political federation, the East African Federation (EAF). The EAC aims at widening and deepening cooperation among partner states in political, economic, social, and other fields for their mutual benefit. Four pillars that were envisioned are customs union, common market, monetary union, and political federation. The EAC came together with the signing of a treaty in July 2000 by Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. By 2007, Rwanda and Burundi had signed on, and South Sudan became the sixth member in August 2016. The East African Customs Union became operational in 2005, and a protocol for the establishment of the EAC common market was signed in 2009. The monetary union and political federation are next on the EAC agenda. The political entity, if it sees the light of day, would be the third-largest and second-most populous country in Africa.

On June 11, 2022,  (EAC) announced that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) officially became the 7th Full Member of the Community after depositing Instruments of Ratification on the accession of the Treaty for the establishment of the East African Community to the EAC Secretary  General, Peter Mathuki.[1] The DRC now shares in the full rights and privileges of the community along with the other members. It participates in the EAC’s programs and activities and must meet its obligations. Therefore, the goal is for the seven countries to unite to form the East African Federation, a new sovereign entity (EAF). The EAF would have almost 300 million residents living inside its 4.8 million square kilometer borders.[2] The EAF would be the fourth-most populous nation in the world and the largest nation in Africa in terms of both territory and population.

The establishment of the EAF would require a passive referendum vote in each nation. For these reasons, public opinion on the regional federation is crucial. Additionally, the acceptance, conviction, and confidence of citizens are necessary for the fulfillment of integration accords. Active involvement of the public is crucial, and its absence has been identified as the greatest impediment to the success of regional integration.[3]

Why the original community broke up

Since the early post-colonial era, there has been talk of founding an East African superstate. The fundamental idea is that six East African countries—Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Sudan—should come together politically to form a federated sovereign state governed by a single president. It has been challenging to put into practice, with attempts at federation failing in the 1960s and the original East African Community (EAC) collapsing in 1977 due to internal conflicts. According to the widely accepted account of events, British-allied interests in Kenya were to blame for the Community’s demise.[4] This is a rushed conclusion that neglects more crucial points. The first is the part played by North American interests whose way of challenging British dominance was to forge a partnership with the new political leadership in Tanzania.[5] Tanzania was a more suitable site than Uganda for these purposes for one obvious reason: in the event of a crisis, coastal Tanzania would be much more likely to foresee life outside the Community than a hostage-like landlocked Uganda. The second part of the untold story is the failure of non-state actors— what is today called civil society—to articulate an independent East African agenda and rally around it.[6] If one views the Community from the perspective of the many firms, notably the largest, the Railways, one is likely to blame Kenya for the dissolution. But if you look at the Community’s dissolution from the perspective of its single market, Tanzania will likely come to light as the culprit.

Recent developments

In the early 2010s, a federation of the current East African Community into a single state began to be discussed, with early estimates of the founding of the federation in 2013.[7]  In 2010, the EAC launched its common market within the region, with the goal of a common currency by 2013 and a full political federation in 2015.[8] On 14 October 2013, the leaders of Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi began a meeting in Kampala intending to draft a Constitution for the East African Federation,[9] but by December 2014, efforts for a full political federation had been pushed back to 2016 or later.[10] In September 2018, a committee of regional constitutional experts and drafters was formed to begin the process of drafting a regional constitution. The committee, led by retired Ugandan Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki[11] met for a five-day consultation meeting in Burundi from 14–18 January 2020, where it announced that a confederation Constitution would be drafted by the end of 2021. Following approval of the draft by the now seven EAC states after a year of consultations, the East African Confederation would be established by 2023. The political union is anticipated to begin as a confederation and transition to a federation if partner states have been able to harmonize their political systems.[12]

Gradual progress is being made on monetary integration. The goal in this case is to ensure that the formerly independent nations operate seamlessly under unified monetary and fiscal regimes. The East African Monetary Institute, for instance, began operating in July 2021 as a precursor to the planned East African Central Bank.[13] The member nations have likewise been discussing the establishment of an East African shilling as a common single currency to facilitate economic integration. The East African Monetary Union (EAMU) Protocol was adopted per the EAC Treaty and signed on 30 November 2013; it lays the groundwork for a monetary union within 10 years and allows the EAC Partner States to progressively converge their currencies into a single currency in the Community.[14]

Benefits

 Integration and standardization in these facets of the economy under one large Federation would make the area more economically appealing to a multinational corporation looking to operate in the region.[15] Rather than needing to comply with each country’s tax and fiscal policies, they would be dealing with one unified front, leading to lower operating costs in the region.[16] Under the control of one president, a united front will also provide easier diplomatic processes for multinational companies to deal with.[17] From this vantage point, it has been argued that the Federation’s economic advantages explain why major world powers like the United States have chosen to support the Federation. There would be economic attractiveness in combining a population of 280 million citizens and $240 billion in gross domestic output.

Another advantage of the federation would be the ability to move resources from landlocked areas to coastal trading hubs, allowing the region to fully harness its natural resources, such as oil in Uganda and natural gas in Tanzania. It would provide access to the sea for landlocked countries including South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. The East African Federation would provide the most politically stable access to important maritime trade routes on Africa’s east coast with the Somalian coast to the north and the Mozambican coast to the south.  An economic union would also make it easier for coastal areas and the heavily populated Great Lakes region to conduct business internally and externally.

Challenges

The degree to which democracy has been adopted in these nations varies substantially. Paul Kagame has been the president of Rwanda for the past 22 years and won his third term with nearly 99% of the vote in the most recent election, making the country’s elections essentially closed.[18]  In contrast, multi-party elections are held in other member countries like Kenya, where there is less significant election corruption.[19] The unilateral lack of free governance throughout the seven nations is an even bigger worry for this Union. Kenya and Tanzania have the highest freedom scores of the seven countries according to the Freedom House metric system, yet they are still considered to be mostly free.[20] Media censorship, restrictions on voting rights, election fraud, and other forms of voter suppression exists in every state. Merging countries with such anti-democratic and corrupt institutions could create a humanitarian disaster for the people who might lose their freedoms and make cooperation between the various governmental forces more challenging. According to a Tanzanian survey, 38% of participants thought that the Union of EAC would worsen political corruption while just 33% thought it would alleviate it.[21]

Even if it is understood that the union of these countries is economically beneficial, certain countries that want to join the EAC have encountered difficulties because of the logistics of adhering to the EAC’s requirements. Burundi has the lowest GDP of the countries applying to join this organization, at around US$ 3 billion, which is almost US$ 100 billion less than Kenya’s GDP (US$ 98 billion).[22] This disparity in wealth has made it difficult for the less developed countries to meet some of the requirements set for the EAC. For instance, South Sudan took four years to join the EAC and still falls short of several of the requirements laid down for the Community.

Mutual mistrust and divergent economic policies are also roadblocks to further development. Trade disputes caused by inter-state mistrust continue to plague the region. Further attempts at integration are severely hampered by this political rivalry brought on by mistrust of the local leadership. Important components of the economic infrastructure and policies are still lacking. Since many EAC nations are impoverished and dependent on external help, they continue to harbor mistrust toward their neighbors and are susceptible to economic shocks.

In conclusion, without initially establishing a monetary union, the main benefit of a political union could not be realized. Significant economic reforms will be necessary to advance in this direction. It is challenging to imagine such reforms and crucial infrastructure being implemented when the region is still experiencing the effects of the global pandemic. It is possible that the project will fail, as it has in the past, in addition to the current 2023 date being missed. Whether or not this occurs will rely on the EAC’s leadership. Almost all internal conflicts and a lack of reform are caused by incumbent leaders feeling exposed in their roles. The biggest underlying barrier to continued development and the biggest danger to the project’s successful completion is this feeling of vulnerability. We can only hope that the idea endures and that the area emerges from the post-pandemic era in a more secure position to realize its own great goals.

Collins Tieni is a Law Student at JKUAT-Karen Campus. He has expressed interest in Public International Law, Medical Law and Land Law. He can be reached at tienicollins18@gmail.com

References

Aryeetey E and Oduro A, Regional integration efforts in Africa: An overview, in

Teunissen, J. J. (ed), Regionalism and the Global Economy: The Case of Africa. The Hague:

FONDAD, (1996)

Balongo S, Support for the formation of a federation of East African states: Citizens’ attitudes in Kenya and Tanzania, Afrobarometer Policy Paper No. 16 (2015)

 [https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?locations=ZG] accessed on 18 December 2022

East Africa, Further delays for the EAC political federation, (2014)

FACTBOX: East African Common Markets begins, (2010) Reuters Africa

[https://web.archive.org/web/20120118170653/http://af.reuters.com/article/kenyaNews/idAFLDE65T2AJ20100701?sp=true]

accessed on 18 December 2022

Ikuya M.J, Why the Current Clamor for East African Federation Cannot Produce Unity, Society for International Development (2018)

Shikwati J, “The Benefits of the East Africa Federation to the Youth. The African Executive“,  The African Executive (2006)

Johnson M, The East African Federation; A potential new economic superpower looms, (2022) International Banker [https://internationalbanker.com/news/the-east-african-federation-a-potential-new-economic-superpower-looms/] accessed on 18 December 2022

 Mamdani M, The East African Federation: Challenges for the Future, Makerere Institute of Social Research (2015)

Martin R, East African Federation Looks Set for Further Delay, (2021) Global Risks Insights,

[https://globalriskinsights.com/2021/03/east-african-federation-looks-set-for-further-delay/]

accessed on 18 December 2022

Rwanda: Politically Closed Elections, (2017) Human Rights Watch,

[https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/08/18/rwanda-politically-closed-elections]

accessed on 18 December 2022

Sudan Tribune, “Uganda hosts meeting of experts to fast-track political federation of East Africa“, SudanTribune.com, (2013)

Ubwani Z, “EAC must raise $3.5m to keep confederation plan on course“, (2021) The Citizen,

[https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/tanzania/news/business/-eac-must-raise-3-5m-to-keep-confederation-plan-on-course-3390396]

accessed on 18 December 2022 [https://freedomhouse.org/country/kenya/freedom-world/2022] accessed on 18 December 2022

[https://freedomhouse.org/explore-the-map?type=fotn&year=2022] accessed on 18 December 2022


[1] Monica Johnson, The East African Federation; A potential new economic superpower looms, (2022) International Banker [https://internationalbanker.com/news/the-east-african-federation-a-potential-new-economic-superpower-looms/] accessed on 18 December 2022

[2] Ibid

[3] E. Aryeetey and A. Oduro, Regional integration efforts in Africa: An overview, in

Teunissen, J. J. (ed), Regionalism and the Global Economy: The Case of Africa. The Hague:

FONDAD, (1996)

[4] Mahmood Mamdani, The East African Federation: Challenges for the Future, Makerere Institute of Social Research (2015)

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] James Shikwati, “The Benefits of the East Africa Federation to the Youth. The African Executive“,  The African Executive (2006)

[8] FACTBOX: East African Common Markets begins, (2010) Reuters Africa [https://web.archive.org/web/20120118170653/http://af.reuters.com/article/kenyaNews/idAFLDE65T2AJ20100701?sp=true] accessed on 18 December 2022

[9] Sudan Tribune, “Uganda hosts meeting of experts to fast-track political federation of East Africa“, SudanTribune.com, (2013)

[10] East Africa, Further delays for the EAC political federation, (2014)

[11]Zephania Ubwani, “EAC must raise $3.5m to keep confederation plan on course“, (2021) The Citizen,

[https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/tanzania/news/business/-eac-must-raise-3-5m-to-keep-confederation-plan-on-course-3390396]

accessed on 18 December 2022

[12] Rhys Martin, East African Federation Looks Set for Further Delay, (2021) Global Risks Insights, [https://globalriskinsights.com/2021/03/east-african-federation-looks-set-for-further-delay/] accessed on 18 December 2022

[13] Monica Johnson (n1)

[14] ibid

[15] James Magode Ikuya, Why the Current Clamor for East African Federation Cannot Produce Unity, Society for International Development (2018)

[16] ibid

[17] FACTBOX (n7)

[18] Rwanda: Politically Closed Elections, (2017) Human Rights Watch, [https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/08/18/rwanda-politically-closed-elections] accessed on 18 December 2022

[19] [https://freedomhouse.org/country/kenya/freedom-world/2022] accessed on 18 December 2022

[20] [https://freedomhouse.org/explore-the-map?type=fotn&year=2022] accessed on 18 December 2022

[21] Samuel Balongo, Support for the formation of a federation of East African states: Citizens’ attitudes in Kenya and Tanzania, Afrobarometer Policy Paper No. 16 (2015)

[22] [https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?locations=ZG] accessed on 18 December 2022

Avatar
/ Published posts: 62

The Platform for Law, Justice & Society is published by Gitobu Imanyara & Co every month principally to offer a platform for informed and critical discussion of the National Values and Principles set out in Articles 10 (2) of the Constitution of Kenya.

Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.