Uganda is behind efforts to speed up the East African Community integration process which will ultimately lead to the formation of an East African Federation. The EAC, which comprises five countries: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania Rwanda and Burundi, was revived in 1999 after falling apart in 1977.
The three founding states of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania expanded the organisation’s membership by admitting Rwanda and Burundi. Some of the reasons of the failures of the EAC in the 70s were mainly conflicts between Uganda and Tanzania on one hand and Tanzania and Kenya on the other. The same reasons are now are rearing their ugly heads again and Tanzania is warning that the organisation may be doomed.
According to Article 5 (2) of the EAC treaty, the organisation will form a political federation after going through the phases of Customs Union (2005), Common Market (2010) and Monetary Union. The Customs Union protocol was signed in 2005 while that of the Common Market was signed in 2010. However, the two protocols are yet to be fully implemented although a lot of progress has been realised. Consequently, trade between member states is still impeded by non-tariff barriers.
Tanzania is opposed to the free movement of labour in the region and the use of National Identification Cards as travel documents across borders. It has also imposed high work permit fees for East Africans to protect local citizens’ jobs. There is also reluctance in most member states to implement the protocol on the Common Market. Experts say a prematurely undertaken Common Market could pose risks and advise greater coordination especially on monetary and exchange policy. Economists also say that the respective EAC central banks should moderate inflation for at least a decade before embarking on the monetary union. Small economies such as Burundi and Rwanda are also concerned about the effects of monetary policies of other member states on their currencies.
In view of the slow integration pace, the Ugandan, Rwandan and Kenyan presidents have met twice this year in Kampala and Mombasa, in the absence of their Burundian and Tanzanian counterparts, to discuss important issues such as regional infrastructure projects and speeding up of the integration process. President Museveni could become the first East African Federation president if the integration process came to fruition. This could also serve him well if there was an election of a leader to head a united Africa. At almost 70 -19 years older than the Burundian President, Pierre Nkurunziza – President Museveni is the dean of African presidents in the region. Having been in power since 1986, he is also among the longest serving African heads of states. In 2016, the date at which the EA Federation is slated to come into being, most leaders of the EA states will have left power. President Kikwete is in his second and final term which ends in 2015. President Nkurunziza is also in his second and final term which ends in 2015 and he has lately been trying to get a third mandate but it is uncertain if his efforts will bear fruits as some donors and the Burundi opposition are against the move.
Rwandan leader Paul Kagame’s final 7-year term ends in 2017. His focus is more on clinching a third term rather than leading the federation. On the other hand Kenyan leader, Uhuru Kenyatta’s plate seems full. In 2016 he will be busy campaigning for a second term, leaving Museveni to seek the presidency of the EA Federation unchallenged. President Museveni’s heavy weight political stature is rooted in his deep involvement in regional politics. He helped Rwanda to defeat genocide forces in the 90s and spearheaded efforts to restore peace in Burundi. He has also been credited for championing the restoration of some stability in Somalia, after Uganda was the first to deploy peacekeepers in Mogadishu.
He is also heading the African onslaught on the International Criminal Court over the issue of trying seating African heads of state. President Kenyatta’s trial at The Hague will commence in mid-November and it will be the first time that a head of state is tried while still in office. His deputy William Ruto is currently on trial at the court.
President Museveni has always defended the need for unity in Africa as a remedy for the underdevelopment and balkanisation of the continent which occurred during the colonial era. In most of his past speeches, Museveni has stressed a lot on economic integration. However, in recent years he has put particular emphasis on political integration and political federation particularly in East Africa. He has been quoted by the media saying that successful economic integration without political integration is insufficient to address issues such as common defence. He has thus advocated for the creation of “similar political mindset” through the formation of a federation.
Community could collapse again
However, there is a real risk that fast tracking the integration process could undo the little progress that has already been accomplished or even break up the organisation again. Although Tanzania and Burundi are not totally opposed to the creation of an East African political federation, they have issued separate statements to distance themselves from the outcome of meetings by the leaders of the three states in their absence. The media has quoted Tanzanian High Commissioner to Uganda, Ladislaus Komba predicting doom and saying that the organisation should avoid repeating the mistakes which led to its collapse in the 70s after a ten-year existence. The Burundian government has also issued a statement to denounce the tripartite summit and said it would not adhere to conclusions of summits to which it did not take part. “Burundi will not respect the decisions of the meetings and cannot adhere to a programme which has been put in place and realised without its participation”, its government spokesman and secretary-general, Philippe Nzobonariba said. President Museveni has also spearheaded calls to admit South Sudan and Somalia into the organisation. Analysts believe he wants to push forward regardless of Tanzania’s and Burundi’s objections. Should the EA Federation see the day, President Museveni could become its head, leaving space for his son to vie for the Ugandan presidency. (Charles Bigirimana)