It recently emerged that, in February, a sub-committee of ministers responsible for East African Community affairs agreed on a confederation model instead of a political federation as the last stage of EAC integration.
As Judy Njeru, senior assistant director for political affairs in Kenya’s state department of EAC integration said recently, a confederation is a union of political units for common action in relation to other units.
Confederations tend to be established for dealing with critical issues such as defence and security, foreign affairs, a common currency, immigration and labour movement, infrastructure, and education, science and technology development.
Njeru said measures toward this form of cooperation, including harmonisation of education systems and curricula, cooperation in health, sports, defence, peace and security, trade and customs, standards and environment, are already taking place.
“Confederation allows for the transitional stages to be used as building blocks towards the achievement of a full political federation,” she said.
“The idea of a confederation as a transitional phase toward the political federation is desirable, particularly since partner states will retain their sovereignty and only transfer some capacity in identified areas.”
A political confederation, Njeru said, will have a major impact on the political structure, monetary and fiscal policies of the regional bloc. However, much depends on how partner states actually walk the talk in 2017 and beyond. More cooperation and lesser competition will also see the region’s integration agenda reinforced.
Enter South Sudan
In April, last year, when Presidents Salva Kiir of South Sudan, and John Magufuli of Tanzania as EAC Summit chairperson, signed the treaty of accession to the Community, they noted that South Sudan’s entry was for the benefit of the entire region.
When Juba deposited instruments of ratification on the accession of the EAC Treaty, five months later, it enlarged the bloc’s market size to nearly 166 million people, up from 155 million.
There are those who doubt South Sudan’s admission is one of the achievements for EAC given how the four year old tit-for-tat hostility in the world’s youngest state, among others, hit the economies of Uganda and Kenya.
The chronic conflict has claimed thousands of innocent lives, displaced others and is wrecking the nascent oil economy. To this day, peace remains elusive. Analysts therefore doubt whether this kind of South Sudan benefits the bloc.
The country is expected to commence full participation in EAC activities in June 2017 but, other factors constant, peace in Juba will be the best reward to this generous Community.
What’s more, the adhoc EAC Service Commission established as part of recommendations emanating from the EAC institutional review process could be another key progress highlight of the past year.
The EAC faced diverse challenges; a situation not helped by Partner States’ increasing interest in recruitment procedures, with regard to staff recruitment in view of the Community’s expanded mandate, and the inadequate human resource capacity organs and institutions. The Commission, as expected, will oversee recruitment of staff.
Other new institutions, including the Kigali-based EAC regional centre of excellence for vaccines, immunisation, and health supply chain management, among others, commenced operations.
Besides creating a regional identity, the centre will train a cadre of health supply chain managers and continue to harness best practices beyond 2017.
The current East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) has another six months to go before its tenure ends. After consolidating its position following a poor show earlier when former Speaker Margaret Zziwa was removed, the Third Assembly passed 15 Bills and approved more than 30 reports in the past 12 months.
These include the EAC Customs Management Act (Amendment) Bill, 2016; the EAC Supplementary Appropriation Bill, 2016; the EAC Anti-Trafficking Persons Bill, 2016; and the EAC People with Disabilities Bill, 2016.
Besides putting to account different EAC officials, including the secretary-general, lawmakers also achieved an important milestone by breathing life into the activity of sensitisation of the bloc’s citizens.
They also passed a resolution urging the Summit to amend the EAC Treaty to make Kiswahili a national language of the bloc.
In 2016, more effort was put in eliminating non-tariff barriers. Still, the new-fangled plan to phase out the US Dollar as a cross-border trade legal tender in favor of local notes and coins will be a game changer for small and medium size businesses.
Among other advantages, when east Africans, especially border communities, transact business without converting their respective currencies to the dollar and back to their own as is the case now partner states stand to save money lost through the time consuming exchange.
That aside, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), in its Africa Regional Integration Index Report 2016, says EAC is the top performing regional economic community on integration. But this does not imply that partner states should rest on their laurels.
The report says EAC has higher than average scores across each dimension of regional integration, except for financial and macroeconomic integration.
Even with some of the progress highlights, and regional integration being deemed to be a development priority, the year saw unpleasant incidents. Once more, partner states’ remittances remained awfully poor and organs such as EALA at some point suspended some activities.
In a December 16, 2016 statement, EAC Secretary-General Liberat Mfumukeko is said to have instituted reforms to cut cost in EAC programmes.
He reportedly reduced travel expenditures by 28 per cent between May and November 2016, compared to 23 per cent between May and November 2015, saving nearly $2.75 million.
However, despite this, difficulties persist as EALA has moved to halt recruitment of more than 30 senior EAC Secretariat officials due to allegations of corruption.
In November, last year, chiefs of EAC revenue authorities, meeting in Kigali, admitted that the bloc is threatened by increased fraudulent practices. Richard Tusabe, Rwanda Revenue Authority commissioner-general, said they are consolidating anti-graft efforts.
Knowing that national approaches alone do not yield much and are not sustainable, regional tax authorities are looking to improve cooperation; share more information and jointly deploy resources to tackle the vices, Tusabe said.