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Presidents L-R; Museveni, Kagame, Kikwete,Kibaki and Nkurunziza after the adoption and signing of EAC Customs Union in Arusha in 2009.

By Sheila Naturinda

The just concluded East African Community summit in the Burundian capital Bujumbura, has revealed that the political leadership is more optimistic about the process than its citizens.

The summit also reveals that there is a lot of political will to see that the federation is achieved, come 2015. However, it yet again brought out the underlying challenges that the community is facing, further justifying the call from observers that the step toward forming one state should be greeted with “caution optimism.”

The optimism seems warranted because the EAC leaders have shown a consensus that trade and private sector investments are crucial inputs to sustained growth and development. But some caution regarding what to expect from the EAC is hardly surprising, as the collapse in 1977 of an earlier effort at regional integration, suggests that the road ahead is not straight forward, with numerous barriers left that must be overcome.

The EAC observers argue that factors that led to the collapse of the bloc in the 1970s are playing out differently at the moment and efforts to form a federation are being carried out under very different set of political and economic circumstances.

Catching up
They point out that the fast growth of Uganda and Tanzania in comparison to Kenya over the past 20 years, has not only narrowed the gap between them and their larger neighbour, but it has given these nations confidence in their competitive abilities.

On the political front, all three countries are much closer politically than they were 30 years ago. Changes in the economic structures of these countries and a growing middle class that has increasingly sophisticated product demands, suggest that the benefits from trade may be greater than earlier times when the commodity structures of all these countries were mainly agricultural.

“These three reasons may give us confidence that “This time is different when it comes to the gains that each country can capture from deeper regional integration,” Prof. Ethan Kapsteine, in a paper on the future of the integration, said.

While the observers say the integration this time is different, research shows that the citizens are skeptical and doubt that the changes are significant enough to give greater confidence that the East African integration will promote trade, investment and job creation in the years ahead.

Reports from experts hired to look into integration issues and the recommendations from the council of ministers that provide a road map for the way forward, have been largely adopted by political leaders.

The reports, however, show that citizens have a feeling that democratic deficits and lack of accountability that exists in some countries may be replicated at the regional level.
The fears and concerns registered by the populace were categorised into political, economic, legal and socio- cultural, among others.

From a political perspective, the East Africans are scared of losing their sovereignty. And since the 2015 political federation means creating one single state, it means partner states should prepare to cede some political powers.

On legal grounds, the people insist that there are many disparities in governance, probably the reason why Tanzania, the largest of all the states is taking a slow motion in signing most policies as developed by the states.

“I believe these are very pertinent issues and we should take them very seriously. When Burundi and Rwanda joined the community, there was a special programme for bringing them on board,” Ms Dora Byamukama, a Ugandan representative in East African Legislative Assembly, says.

Land wrangles
There is a fear that with the limited land in some states, some people may lose the little space they have. The fear to lose land therefore continues to be a sensitive issue and as the experts reported, “a potential source of conflict” when the countries finally federate.

Source: Daily Monitor