The East African Community – Hope for the Future
On November 30, 1993, the countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, driven by historical ties, the need to promote sustainable utilization of the regions’ natural resources, enhance the role of women, and to promote peace security and good neighborliness within the region, agreed to establish a Permanent Tripartite Commission (PTC) for East African Cooperation (EAC).
Almost two decades have passed since then, and thus far the EAC’s main achievement has been the commencement – on 1st July, 2010 – of the Common Market.
The success of the EAC should be analysed from three main vantage points, that is, ‘progress’ made since the PTC, ‘challenges’ faced along the way, and ‘recommendations’ for the future. In this missive, I would like to delve in and around issues pertaining to challenges that have been faced by the EAC.
Citizens of East Africa have, more often than not, been disappointed by what they judge to be more talk and less action. In reference to the EAC, the buzzword has commonly become “we don’t walk the talk”! However, this invalid judgment is often made without putting into consideration the fact that each member state works under, and is surrounded by many challenges and constraints, which – very unfortunately – hinder our ambitions towards regional integration. Several examples could be pointed out to illustrate these challenges, but the most evident and palpably observable example is that which stems from “national security”. Specific security-related incidents have occurred since the establishment of the PTC to illustrate the extent of this challenge, and its potentially devastating effect not only on the process of regional integration, but on the livelihood of the East African region as a whole.
Retrospectively, the immediate post-PTC period did not augur well for East Africa. Only one year later (1994) tensions were high in Rwanda, and a series of unfortunate ethnic-related events climaxed into a horrendous four-month genocide (April – July, 1994). At that time Rwanda was not even party to the PTC initiative towards regional integration. However, this is a country that the rest of us, that is, Kenyans, Ugandans, and Tanzanians, can look at as “˜right across the street!’ During and after the genocide an influx of refugees were pouring in from left, right, and center. Security forces of surrounding countries were on very high alert while death loomed in and around East Africa, and the Great Lakes region as a whole. At a time of emergency such as this, one would have expected all East African nations to cautiously build even stronger barriers around their borders for fear that the genocide would, in one way or another, inadvertently spill-over into their countries (you don’t open your gate even wider if someone is mercilessly slaughtering your neighbor!). This dreadful incident posed a great challenge for all surrounding countries. However, our leaders courageously went ahead to work towards breaking down barriers in accordance with the PTC that they had firmly agreed upon.
Still focusing on security, a similar but lower-scale incident occurred in 1998, that is, five years after the spark towards integration had been successfully ignited. On April 30th (1998), the PTC launched a draft treaty for establishment of the EAC, but only four months later, that is, on August 7th, the US Embassy bombings struck in Kenya and Tanzania. Once again, East Africa was on HIGH ALERT, and one would have expected respective leaders to decide that it would be wise to defensively strengthen borders. These tragic incidents could have thrown ambitions towards integration completely OFF balance, but in the same show of determination the political-will maintained very strong resolve, which rendered the PTC un-phased by these tragic incidents; it continued ploughing on towards integration.
In the same vein; July 1st, 2010, historically marked commencement of the operationalisation of the Common Market. The long march towards transforming the EAC region into a common or single market was indeed a milestone, and it began with unwavering fervor. However, only seven days later (i.e., July 7th) it “hit the fan” once again when Kampala was devastatingly hit by terrorist bomb blasts. What should have been a lively viewing of the 2010 World Cup finals between Netherlands and Spain turned disastrous, as three bombs ripped through the city suburbs of Kampala leaving several dead and multitudes of others critically injured.
From different vantage points I could highlight several other challenges, in addition to national security, that occur as East Africa works towards integration. Therefore, one can only imagine the humongous task the leaders, and indeed the citizens of East Africa, have on their shoulders. On a different note, the citizens of East Africa would like to see everything materializing tomorrow, but they also have to realize that it will definitely take time. Before we are able to see the realities of integration on the ground, it is necessary, and only fair, to remember that economic technicalities have to be expertly calculated, social concerns and norms have to be very carefully attuned, and multifaceted institutions of all kinds (e.g., cultural, financial, educational, agricultural, etc) have to be proficiently restructured towards integrative and sustainable cohesion. Whatever happens, the solid irrefutable fact is that all this will require a lot of time, and cannot happen overnight.
It is also worth arguing that if all East African member states had the same military and financial strength enjoyed by the USA and the EU, we would be far ahead in the process. If anything, we would have united yesterday. Therefore, impatient as they may be; East Africans have to empathise with their leaders and try to understand the multifarious constraints under which these leaders have to make very difficult integration-related decisions.
A lot has happened that could have given East Africa’s leaders second thoughts about integration. Recent events have also shown that there is a possibility that our leaders would have edged not only towards postponing the whole integration process, but also leaving the idea on the shelf to eternally gather dust. However, it is encouraging to note that all five (not ‘three’ anymore, but ‘five’, including Rwanda and Burundi) member states are – together – still on that journey. Individual EAC member states have endured DEVASTATING BLOWS during the trek towards integration in ways that have had negative spillover effects on ALL member states, but nothing has weakened either our ambition or strong resolve.
To logically legitimize and authentically substantiate the purportedly strong resolve being championed here, trade-related records and financial statistics now show that total intra-EAC trade has increased from $1.85 billion in 2005 to $3.5 billion in 2009, while total Foreign Direct Investment into the region, during the same period, has risen from $910 million to $1.72 billion. It is also worth noting that the EAC region has a growing consumer market that currently stands at $133.5 million with a pooled GDP of $74.5 billion. Having successfully completed the Customs Union phase, which was launched in 2005, the EAC has now embarked on building the Common Market, which was formally launched in July, 2010. Upon completion, the common market will provide for free movement of (1) goods, (2) services, (3) capital, and (4) labor (the EAC’s “Four Freedoms”). It is also expected that the East African Monetary Union Protocol will officially be adopted in 2012, which is three years ahead of schedule. Therefore, records are readily available to show that even while under duress of the potentially destablising challenge outlined above (…which is only one of several), EAC integration is in very high gear and it is definitely making sure and steady progress.
Bearing in mind the complex political-economic and intricate social-cultural configurations necessary for the foundational initiation and long-term sustainability of regional integration, the EAC has fared admirably well. There are definitely several challenges ahead, but one can safely and confidently conclude that the East African Community is here, and it is here to stay.