A slow punc­ture in the bloc

U-TURN?: Per­son­al­ity clashes, na­tional in­ter­ests and trade dis­putes re­vive mem­o­ries of 1977 break-up

The East African - - FRONT PAGE - By FRED OLUOCH

In many ways East Africa has not fully re­cov­ered from the tragic col­lapse of the orig­i­nal Com­mu­nity in 1977.” Harold Acemah, for­mer Ugan­dan diplo­mat

Dif­fer­ences be­tween po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and con­flict­ing na­tional in­ter­ests have once again cropped up to threaten the in­te­gra­tion of the East African Com­mu­nity mem­ber states, bring­ing back mem­o­ries of the 1977 break-up of its pre­cur­sor.

On Novem­ber 30, the 20th Or­di­nary Meet­ing of the EAC heads of state ended in dis­ar­ray af­ter Bu­rundi boy­cotted, an­gry at how its con­cerns had been han­dled by the cur­rent EAC chair­man, Uganda's Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni.

Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni was forced to call off the meet­ing and resched­ule it to De­cem­ber 27 cit­ing lack of quo­rum.

As the is­sues sim­mer un­der the sur­face, some ob­servers say the Com­mu­nity could be star­ing at a re­peat of 1977 due to un­re­solved per­sion­al­ity clashes, com­mer­cial in­ter­ests and se­cu­rity is­sues among the part­ner states.

In 1977, the break-up was caused by the ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­tween Kenya and Tan­za­nia, and per­sonal dif­fer­ences be­tween Tan­za­nia's Julius Ny­erere and Ugan­dan dic­ta­tor Idi Amin.

While the cur­rent EAC, re­vived in 1999, was sup­posed to be peo­ple-cen­tred and busi­ness-driven, ex­perts say the bloc is now at the mercy of gov­ern­ment elites. They cite dif­fer­ences be­tween Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza of Bu­rundi; Pres­i­dent Nku­run­z­iza and Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni and other na­tion­al­ist is­sues that present ob­sta­cles to smooth in­te­gra­tion.

Harold Acemah, a re­tired Ugan­dan diplo­mat with 30 years ex­pe­ri­ence, says the fail­ure of the 20th Sum­mit is a “bad omen” — a pointer to the dif­fi­cul­ties the bloc is fac­ing. These in­clude in­ad­e­quate re­sources to fi­nance the op­er­a­tions of the Com­mu­nity Sec­re­tar­iat, a lack of trust among the six heads of state and a lack of po­lit­i­cal com­mit­ment to the ideals and agreed agenda as and pro­grammes.

“Pres­i­dent Nku­run­z­iza feels like a poor cousin who is taken for granted by his big broth­ers,” said Mr Acemah, cit­ing the tone of last week's cor­re­spon­dence be­tween Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni and Pres­i­dent Nku­run­z­iza, af­ter the lat­ter re­quested post­pone­ment of the Sum­mit to give his coun­try ad- time to pre­pare.

“Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni was abra­sive and undiplo­matic. It re­flects bad blood be­tween the two EAC lead­ers,” said Mr Acemah.

He, how­ever, traces the emerg­ing fric­tion be­tween Pres­i­dent Nku­run­z­iza and the other EAC lead­ers to his move on the Arusha Ac­cord, when he sought a con­tro­ver­sial third term in 2015. It is Pierre Nku­run­z­iza who feels iso­lated, not nec­es­sar­ily Bu­rundi, says the diplo­mat.

The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion goes against the vi­sion of the peo­ple-driven Com­mu­nity. Ar­ti­cle 5 of the 1999 EAC Treaty says that the ob­jec­tives of the Com­mu­nity is to de­velop poli­cies and pro­grammes aimed at deep­en­ing co-op­er­a­tion among the part­ner states in po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic, so­cial and cul­tural fields, re­search and tech­nol­ogy, de­fence, se­cu­rity and le­gal and ju­di­cial af­fairs, for their mu­tual ben­e­fit.

But of great im­por­tance is Ar­ti­cle 5 (3) d, which states, “The strength­en­ing and con­sol­i­da­tion of the long stand­ing po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic, so­cial, cul­tural and tra­di­tional ties and as­so­ci­a­tions be­tween the peo­ples of the Part­ner States so as to pro­mote a peo­ple-cen­tred mu­tual de­vel­op­ment of these ties and as­so­ci­a­tions.

Ni­code­mus Minde, a Tan­za­nian po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor, says that the EAC, mod­elled along the Eu­ro­pean Union, has failed be­cause the in­te­gra­tion process is still elite-driven. He says that the EAC should en­deav­our to use its leg­isla­tive or­gan (the East African Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly) to push for a peo­ple-cen­tred in­te­gra­tion. It has so far failed.

Mr Minde says that Pres­i­dent Nku­run­z­iza is still livid about the failed coup of 2015 that took place while he was at­tend­ing an EAC sum­mit in Tan­za­nia. His con­tro­ver­sial third-term has also made him un­com­fort­able do­mes­ti­cally, re­gion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Abubakar Zein, a for­mer mem­ber of the East African Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly from Kenya, said that the chal­lenge is that the Treaty has lim­i­ta­tions and the im­ple­men­ta­tion mech­a­nisms had been ear­marked for re­view seven years ago but it never hap­pened.

“For in­stance, how do you deal with a coun­try like Bu­rundi that dis­obeys the chair, has made it dif­fi­cult for the Coun­cil of Min­is­ters to work, and tor­pe­doed the sum­mit? This is be­cause the sus­pen­sion and ex­pul­sion mech­a­nisms are yet to be fully de­vel­oped,” said Mr Zein.

Mr Acemah says po­lit­i­cal will is lack­ing among the lead­ers but there is plenty of good­will among East Africans. He said the ar­rears owed to the EAC by part­ner states and late pay­ments of con­tri­bu­tions to

the bud­get are symp­toms of a lack of com­mit­ment, rather than a gen­uine in­abil­ity to pay.

“If the EAC were peo­ple-driven, many of the ten­sions that are caus­ing di­vi­sions would not arise. If chal­lenges arose, I be­lieve they would be man­age­able and eas­ier to re­solve. In many ways, East Africa has not fully re­cov­ered from the tragic col­lapse of the orig­i­nal Com­mu­nity in 1977,'' said Mr Acemah.

The East African Court of Jus­tice and EALA are the only two or­gans that en­joy some mea­sure of in­de­pen­dence. But the man­date of the court still has is­sues of gov­er­nance and democ­racy and the role of civil so­ci­ety and the pri­vate sec­tor has not been fully de­vel­oped.

While the EAC has an an­nual bud­get of about $110 mil­lion, part­ner states are re­quired to pay up be­tween $10 and $12 mil­lion only and the rest is given by donors. But it would be un­fair to ask for in­stance, Kenya — with a big­ger econ­omy — and Bu­rundi, whose econ­omy is al­most equiv­a­lent to that of Kenya's Ki­ambu County, to pay the same amount. This means that Bu­rundi has been de­fault­ing on its pay­ments and in some cases Kenya and Tan­za­nia chip in on its be­half through a bi­lat­eral ar­range­ment. South Su­dan has the re­sources, but is still in po­lit­i­cal con­flict.

This means that it is per­pet­u­ally in fi­nan­cial cri­sis and the con­tri­bu­tions are only used for re­cur­rent ex­pen­di­ture such as salaries and not de­vel­op­ment agenda. There have been sug­ges­tions that the big­ger econ- omies should con­trib­ute more, the same way Ger­many does in the Eu­ro­pean Union. But Tan­za­nia has re­sisted such an ar­range­ment on grounds that the part­ner states that pay more may end up call­ing the shots. Other sug­ges­tions have been to im­pose taxes on im­ports as in the African Union's new mea­sures, but im­porters have re­sisted more tax­a­tion.

In real time, only the Cus­toms Union has a le­gal frame­work in the EAC Cus­toms Union Act. The Com­mon Mar­ket, the Mon­e­tary Union and the Po­lit­i­cal Fed­er­a­tion still don't have the le­gal frame­work. This means many pro­cesses have not been im­ple­mented. The Right of Es­tab­lish­ment and free move­ment of goods and peo­ple is still far away.

One of the ma­jor chal­lenges for the EAC how­ever is har­mon­is­ing the vi­sions of the part­ner states with that of the Com­mu­nity first and then align­ing them with that of the AU. EAC has Vi­sion 2015, Kenya has Vi­sion 2030, Uganda has Vi­sion 2040, Rwanda has Vi­sion 2020/2050, while Tan­za­nia has Vi­sion 2025.

The AU has Vi­sion 2063. These need to be har­monised.

Rwan­dan Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame was at­tend­ing the G20 con­fer­ence in Ber­lin Bu­rundi’s Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza boy­cotted the 20th sum­mit over ‘short no­tice’ Uganda’s Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni said sum­mit had been sched­uled months be­fore

The last heads of state sum­mit held i n Arusha. Bu­rundi has asked for more time to pre­pare for the 20th sum­mit which aborted last week

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