Regional Integration amidst a Pandemic: Covid-19 and the East African Community
COMMENT | Prof. Kasaija Phillip Apuuli | The 2019 United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s (UNECA) Africa Regional Integration Index (ARII) ranked the East African Community (EAC) as the most integrated Regional Economic Community (REC) in Africa with a score of 0.537 out of 1. The integration dimension in which the EAC excelled most was in the free movement of people.
Since the late 19th Century, the East African region has undertaken measurers to enhance integration. Integration has been defined as ‘a process by which the actors concerned begin to voluntarily to give up certain sovereign powers and evolve new techniques for tackling common problems and resolving mutual conflict’.
Four distinct phases can clearly be discerned in East Africa’s integration process.
First, was the building of the Uganda Railway beginning in 1896. The second phase involved the creation of the East African Common Market which started in 1900 culminating in the formation of the East African Common Services Organization (EACSO) in 1961. The third phase which started in 1961, culminated in the signing of the East Cooperation Treaty in December 1967, thus establishing the East African Community (EAC) that collapsed in 1977 due to inter alia ideological differences between the three partner states of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
The fourth and final phase began with the 1984 signing by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda of the ‘Mediation Agreement for the Division of Assets and Liabilities of the former Community’ under which the parties agreed to explore areas of future cooperation and to work out concrete arrangements for such cooperation.
The revival of the current EAC that began in October 1999, culminated in the signing of the Treaty for the establishment of the EAC on 30 November 1999. Since then, institutions such as the Secretariat, the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) and the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) among others have been set up and are functioning. The EAC Treaty declares that ‘the partner states undertake to establish among themselves a customs union, common market, monetary union and ultimately a political federation’.
Thus, the Customs Union and Common Market Protocols came into force in 2005 and 2010 respectively. The introduction of the Customs Union and Common Market has led to the expansion of intra-regional trade, although at 20% it is still low compared with other RECs like the South African Development Community (SADC) which is at 46 percent.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), between the years 2000–2010, intraregional exports between Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda tripled—from nearly $700 million to nearly $2 billion.
Also, tariffs for EAC members in general have fallen substantially being cut from an average of 26.1 percent in 1994 to an estimated 9.2 percent in 2011.
The Protocol on the Establishment of the East African Community Monetary Union (EAMU), was signed in 2013, and envisages the use of a common currency by the partner states by the year 2024. It is against this background that the COVID-19 pandemic struck the region.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Corona Viruses Infection Outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020. Subsequently, it declared it a pandemic on 11 March 2020. By the end of March 2020, the EAC region had reported 172 cases of COVID-19.
As a result, the EAC Secretariat drafted a regional COVID-19 response plan. This was in recognition of the EAC Treaty (1999) (as amended) provision which provides that ‘partner states shall cooperate in health matters including … taking joint action towards … the control [of] pandemics … that might endanger the health and welfare of the residents of the Partner States …’
The regional response plan aims at inter alia ‘ensuring a joint and well coordinated mechanism to fight COVID-19 in the region; facilitating the movement of goods and services; minimizing the number of people who become infected or sick of COVID-19; minimizing morbidity and mortality from the COVID-19; ensuring that the region has adequate capacity for surveillance, case detection and management; and mitigating fundamental impacts of the pandemic on the vital economic and social sectors of the EAC region, including sufficient supply of essential food, keeping businesses afloat especially Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), maintain employment, adapt and re-orient businesses, promote and utilize locally made products as much as possible, as part of the response plan. CLICK TO JUMP TO PAGE 2