A Weakening Union.
For a long time the world has held a romantic view of regional integration, especially Africa, although more recently, because of the anticipated growth — which is highly needed by the continent — generated by integration. But recent occurrences across the mediterranean and the Atlantic, namely; Brexit, potential Frexit, and the America first rhetoric seem to indicate a collapsing romance. Sure enough, these developments are massively covered by various media outlets because of the implications for the global economy. After all the U.S. and the E.U. contribute to a third of global GDP. But this trend unfortunately causes us to overlook what is happening at our own door. The EAC will rarely appear on media, yet it has some concerning downs of its own.
The East African community comprised of six east and central African states — in the vicinity of the east — is in weak shape. Sadly, two members, Kenya and Tanzania, who were first in forming the union and have always served as mediators and big brothers to the other fragile members due to their economic dominance in the region, are in trade wars. The timing could not have been worse. Newest member South Sudan’s security is not improving as hoped, causing anxiety to neighbouring Uganda due to an increasing number of incidents on its home soil with direct link to South Sudan.
Also, two other member states, Rwanda and Burundi seem to be in perpetual disagreement for the past three years. A relationship without disagreements sounds more theoretical than practical, especially one involving countries. The two countries have naturally had some divergences in the past years but the contentious Burundi presidential elections of 2014 kindled a fire that now deeply divides the two countries bound together by more than geography. Like any other serious conflict, this one has not spared welfare of the citizens of the two countries. Trade, free movement of people and capital flow have plummeted.
Another proof of the weakening union can be reflected by member states’ move to join other regional and economic blocks. Burundi’s deferred request to adhere to the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and Rwanda’s already ratified readmission to the Economic Community of Central African States(ECCAS). Although, every country — virtually — seeks to enlarge its political and economic reach, one can’t help but ask: Are these developments coincidental?
The situation is not necessarily irreversible. Some members are enjoying strong bilateral relationships. Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda seem to have outpaced the others. These countries share defence pacts, which is not the case for other members. The single tourist visa, a tourism boosting tool, which gives tourist simultaneous access to the three countries in a single pay, is one strong description of this. Hopefully, the potential returns from these strong relations will lure other reluctant and laggy members to the strong commitment and will help bury the hatchet among member states.
East Africa has a major asset that other trading blocks, such as the EU do not have; that is; uniformity in administration. Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and Kenya have re-elected the same heads of state who have served throughout the past decade, except Kenyatta .But he was a high ranking official in the past decade, nonetheless. This means that these leaders are already acquainted to their counterparts’ method of handling business. And most importantly, there is no need to restructure pending bilateral projects merely because of regime change. If all parties share the same commitment, the region would not see major divergences in the next five years or so.
In addition, the region’s 48 million youth guarantees future labour supply provided adequate manpower planning and economic growth. This is promising compared to regions like the EU, where Germany has population (youth) deficits. Of course, an unshakable union can not occur abruptly or easily. But with the EAC slogan “one people, one destiny” in mind and at hearts, it is achievable — inawezekana!