20 years of EAC – much work needed on political integration

29Nov 2019
The Guardian
20 years of EAC – much work needed on political integration

THE “second-phase” – call it “second-edition”, if you will – intergovernmental organisation known as East African Community (EAC) and now composed of six African Great Lakes region countries celebrates 20 years of its birth this Saturday (November 30).

It was born a long 22 years after a regional economic bloc by the same name but with fewer partner states collapsed – in 1977 – after only ten years of existence.

The current edition of the EAC stands on a surface area of 2.5 million square kilometres and is home to 172 million people, some 22 per cent of whom live in urban areas.

By its own account, the bloc had a combined GDP of US$ 172 billion in 2017, whose realisation one would dare suggest bears immense strategic and geopolitical significance.

Some observers have argued that whoever engineered the crumbling of the “first-phase” EAC committed a sin of gigantic proportions.

The EAC inherited the functions of what was known as East African Common Services Organisation (EACSO), itself set up soon after Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda gained their political independence in the early 1960s.

Incidentally, EACSO itself took over from the East African High Commission – which was in place during the colonial era. In a way, then, it is that East African nations killed a good thing handed over to them on a silver platter.

One might argue that what the three East African nations inherited was a rare asset – a case of ‘unite and quit’ instead of the much more common ‘divide and quit’ as applied to the Indian subcontinent some two decades earlier.

The allusion to the commission of a gigantic blunder has a bearing on the fact that the EAC was, and is still, unique among the world’s economic-political regional blocs – not much unlike the present-day European Union.

It is not only that Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda had a common currency and a common import tariff but also that they ran joint services including in the form of railways, an airline, ports, and posts and telecommunications.

There were also joint research institutes such as that for malaria and fisheries, to name but a few, not to forget the existence of a single court of appeal – the East African Court of Appeal.

So, ordinarily, no one in the right mind would even remotely consider wrecking such a union. But, sadly, that is precisely what happened – with many East Africans and East Africa watchers blaming the bloc’s tragic and costly collapse partly on greed and fatal deficiencies in the bloc’s own structure.

The current EAC has its good features – including a clear vision: a prosperous, competitive, secure, stable and politically united regional bloc.

Much the same applies with respect to its mission: to widen and deepen economic, political, social and cultural integration in order to improve the quality of life of the people in the EAC partner states through increased competitiveness, value-added production, trade and investments.

However, one issue – the establishment, eight years ago, of a regional sectoral council for political affairs to handle good governance issues, is especially commendable.

This is because it allows for speedy decisions on political affairs, as these are deemed especially important and sensitive or delicate issues in the region’s political integration agenda.

The conduct of elections in particular is a very sensitive issue to which all governments in the partner states need to find a permanent solution through the Good Governance Protocol.

Regrettably, if events in the likes of Burundi and Sudan are anything to go by, the Protocol can hardly claim to have scored much success.

However, it is not too late for the EAC to get to the root of the whatever challenges still give it sleepless nights, and thus earn a name for itself as a bloc truly meriting national, regional,