Admitting new members
The treaty to establish the East African Community came into effect in 1999 and has been amended twice; in December 2006 and August 2007. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania acceded to the treaty 20 years ago and Burundi and Rwanda acceded to the East African Community treaty in June 2007 and became full members in July 2007.
In 2016, South Sudan joined the East African Community when President Salva Kiir signed the ascension treaty in Dar es Salam. This was almost five years after South Sudan had applied for membership to the community as soon as it became independent in 2011.
Recently, the EAC heads of state directed the Council of Ministers to undertake the verification mission to Kinshasa and report to the next summit. The DR Congo sent its application to the EAC Secretariat in Arusha in 2019 while Somalia’s application which it sent in 2012 has been pending.
A recent heads of state summit also noted that the verification exercise for the admission of Somalia into the EAC had not been undertaken and directed the Council to follow up on the exercise.
The 1999 EAC Treaty gives conditions for admission including adherence to good governance, democracy, rule of law, observance of human rights and social justice, potential members’ contribution to strengthening proximity to and inter-dependence between it and the partners’ establishment and maintenance of a market-driven economy; and social and economic policies being compatible with those of the community.
But Jane Nalunga, the country director of the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI), said the rules governing admission of new members into the community need to be revisited. She says it is important for citizens of the existing member countries to have a say in who becomes a member of the East African Community.
“The bloc is about people and not anything else,” she said, “It looks like it is more about trade but regional integration is about people.”
SEATINI is a regional NGO that works to promote pro-development fiscal and related policies in Uganda and the East African Community.
Onesmus Mugyenyi, the deputy executive director of the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), a Kampala-based policy think tank agrees with the Tanzanian president.
He told The Independent on June 25 that, if for instance, one looks at the environmental challenges that the world is grappling with, the East African Community Treaty is not alive to those issues.
There are new instruments at both the global and continental level that have come into being, he explains.
“Within the African Union framework, you for instance have the Africa Mining Vision and in Uganda, we now have a climate change law; the environment management law has just been amended together with the policies and regulations. These are developments which have all occurred recently.”
“All these need to be integrated at the East African level. New members are joining but it is important that we look at the circumstances in each of these countries that we need to incorporate in the East African Community Treaty. It is high time the treaty got reviewed.”
Nalunga also told The Independent on June 24 that she agrees with the Tanzanian president. “It is indeed high time we reviewed the East African Community Treaty.” She says there have been ongoing efforts to review the treaty especially in the area of tariffs on imports.
Nalunga told The Independent that for a while, regional trade experts have, for instance argued that the 25% tariff slapped on imports into the region is actually not prohibitive enough to promote the region’s industrialization drive. She noted that one other area that needs urgent attention for review is around the disputes settlement mechanism.
In 2010, the then-five East African Community partner states signed a comprehensive Common Market Protocol, officially binding member states to open-up their borders to allow free movement of goods, labour and capital across the region. But partner states have accused and counter-accused one another of flouting the rules spelt out in the protocol over the years.
While regional integration has been the tune of the EAC heads of state and regional policymakers, the key question is whether this dream will ever be realised, going by the persistent trade wars among member states.
But regional trade experts say while the EAC bloc has developed a number of key strategies and policies aimed at boosting trade, the biggest challenge remains how to implement them.
Nalunga says a major problem of the EAC treaty is its failure to provide adequate mechanisms for resolution of disputes among member states. She says the treaty provides for the summit of the EAC heads of state to intervene in disputes but it is difficult to do so in practice.
She cites the misunderstanding between Rwanda and Uganda which led to the closure of borders. According to her, the East African Community failed to resolve the issue because the Chairman of the Summit at the time was the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, one of the parties involved in the dispute.
Nalunga told The Independent that much as the East African Court of Justice is in place, it is not only overwhelmed by several legal disputes but it could also not resolve the Rwanda-Uganda dispute since the issue is largely political.