Is The East African Community Headed For Another Collapse?

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Written by Kamau Mbote

Recent events in the East African Community that comprises of five member states namely Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi have shown signs of serious fault lines in the bloc that is aimed at leading the region to an economic and political union.

At the commemoration of 20 years since the Rwandan genocide Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame were reported discussing the regions issues without their Tanzanian and Burundi counterparts.

According to a statement from President Kenyatta’s office the leaders discussed various issues including the recent oil discoveries and the $26 billion Lamu Port Southern Sudan Ethiopian LAPSSET corridor project.

“We discussed about the oil refinery at Hoima in Western, Uganda and agreed on a joint construction of a crude oil pipeline from Hoima in Uganda to Lamu in Kenya which is expected to link up with the Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport corridor project,” it said.

This was not the first time that Tanzania and Burundi have missed out on events affecting the region as during discussions by East African community ICT ministers to address key issues such as roaming fees, cyber security and digital migration issues where the two countries were not present.

In response to questions raised by the media on the absence of the two states Ugandan ICT minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda dismissed the view of a growing discourse within the community rather explaining that the issues being discussed mainly affected countries on the ‘Northern Corridor’ namely Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda.

This was despite protests by Tanzania who accused the three member states of sidelining it in carrying out of various infrastructure projects.

Tanzania in November 2013 accused ministers of the three states of contravening articles of the East African Community by sealing deals without consulting with Dar es Salaam.

In a speech made before parliament Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete in defiance said the blocs biggest country would remain part of the common market despite efforts to sideline it on issues that have been discussed at the EAC summit meetings.

“Is there a conspiracy to push Tanzania out of the EAC? Is it that my counterparts from Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda hate me personally? It is difficult to even imagine the answers,” The Daily Nation quoted Kikwete telling the Tanzanian parliament.

“We met in April 28 this year at summit in Arusha. Two months later they meet again alone to discuss how to implement the same issues that we discussed in April, and without inviting me. This is a sign to isolate Tanzania. How can we integrate through isolation?”

In response the secretary general of the bloc Richard Sezibera accused ‘certain members’ of trying to delay the integration process.

“It is not possible to force anybody into the integration process because the countries themselves through the treaty decided that they want a customs union, that they want a common market, that they want a monetary union, that they want a political federation,” said Sezibera in an interview with KTN on the sidelines of the EAC Secretary-General’s Forum.

“This is a decision taken by all the five. There is no country that can be dragged against its will because all this countries have decided this is where they want to go and that they will go there fast.”

Sezibera said his secretariat was yet to receive any complaints of sidelining from Tanzania on the same.

Keeping the ‘COW’ alive

What has however clearly indicated the rift among the countries is the post 1990 political phrase ‘Coalition of the willing’ (formerly used to collectively describe participants in military interventions that fall outside of United Nations) to describe proactive countries in the bloc.

The coalition that involves the three member states is already carrying out various infrastructure projects including investing in the Ugandan refinery set to located in Hoima.

The three have also agreed to have an oil pipeline go through Isiolo Kenya to connect with that from South Sudan (also yet to be started) to transport oil from the three countries through the Lamu Port.

The three nation coalition, without consultations with Tanzania and Burundi, agreed to do away with a route through the bloc’s southern border part of three proposals that had been tabled.

Kikwete has lashed out at the coalition saying Tanzania was willing to participate in the EAC affairs but its objections into rushing the process had been misinterpreted.

“I might be wrong, but my guess is that we are being sideline because we insist that we should not jump key integration steps such as the Monetary Union for the political federation. But in this and all other issues we have the EAC Protocol to back us,” he told the country’s parliament.

Burundi is however slowly showing interest in joining the coalition with its vice president who attended the Kampala meeting as an observer  to discuss various special projects in February expressing intention to join as a partner.

Tanzania vice president who also attended the meeting decided to maintain the status of his country.

Following the meeting the ministers attending issued a communiqué welcoming Burundi’s interest.

“The Heads of State welcomed the interest of the Republic of Burundi to participate in all projects and directed the ministers of Foreign Affairs to coordinate its interest and invite ministers of Burundi and Tanzania to the next technical and ministerial meeting,” read part of a communiqué issued in February.

Expert view on the impasse

According to experts in the region Aly Khan Satchu, an independent analyst at Rich.co.ke and KCB-Uganda limited managing director Albert Odongo the sentiments are small cracks that will not lead to any collapse similar to that in 1977.

They both contend that the bloc is unlikely to collapse unlike the former East Africa Community that had a monetary union in which despite each country having different currencies each converted at par. The union however collapsed as Tanzania and Uganda felt Kenya was benefiting more, while the other member states had been reduced to net importers.

Khan says it would be foremost a mistake for the three states to sideline Tanzania which an integral part of the EAC. He is convinced that Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda are just tying to hasten Tanzania steps in the integration process.

“My sense is that the ‘coalition of the willing’ is trying a ‘Pull Tanzania in our slipstream approach’,” he told AFKInsider.

A view supported by KCB Uganda Limited Managing Director Albert Odongo who says the terms the cracks currently been seen as a temporary political realignment with a minimal effect on business with cross border trade.

“The “COW” is largely in my view a temporary political re-alignment which will gradually peel off. Key cultural and commercial links will ensure that region remains united, with option of some member states pursuing state-to-state cooperation on some projects especially infrastructure on a selected basis. Impact on business will largely be minimal therefore,” says Odongo.

Odongo says to the contrary of the perceived negative effect on trade businesses operating in the East Africa Community expect continued co-operation that will lead to faster transactional times and also an increase in Cross-Border Trade.

He adds that the banking sector in which KCB (Kenya Commercial Bank), the largest bank in Kenya by Asset and one of the regions most expansive lander, plays in has seen major developments as a result of the ongoing integration within the bloc that include co-operation in the areas of Bank Supervision and Monetary Policy Conduct.

There is a general feeling in the EAC that  for the union to work well all members must be seen to be equal and proper mechanisms put in place to ensure that challenges faced are tackled in a way that seems to be inclusive.

The East Africa community as per plan is expected to move to the next phase of a monetary union which enables allows all the member states to trade using a single currency by the end of 2015.