Pace of Regional Integration: Is EAC Meeting its Growth Vision?
The East African Community has made tremendous steps to become one of the most economically, socially and politically integrated blocs in Africa. This has been witnessed in terms of trade and commercial activity integration, regional infrastructure development, production integration, free movement of people and goods, financial and macro-economic integration among others.
These gains are however not without challenges with several countries within the bloc adopting nationalistic tendencies, a fact that does not augur well with progress made and overall vision of the Community of becoming a political federation with a single currency.
Various joint mega development projects have in the recent past stalled with other multiple initiatives failing to achieve their desired impact.
These persistent challenges were the bane of discussion in a strategic retreat by the region’s Council of Ministers, Heads of Organs and Heads of Institutions held at Village Urugwiro, Kigali, Rwanda. The Retreat identified the following as the key set backs to the regional integration process.
Noncompliance and /or slow compliance with signed Protocols
The region has witnessed signature of several progressive Protocols and other integration instruments. However, Partner States have been slow in implementing the same if at all. Indeed, some Partner States are still lagging behind in the process of harmonization of national laws, policies and systems; inaction that has persistently rendered application of the Protocols ineffective.
It should also be noted the despite the existence of numerous good laws and policies, there also exists other barriers to integration such as tariff and non-tariff barriers at Customs and Immigration desks in some Partner States.
With a satellite dispute reporting resolution desk at Namanga One Stop Border Post, the East Africa Law Society has recorded several of these cases where citizens from One Partner State have been denied entry into nother Partner State without being furnished with the reasons for the denial, traders have been harassed and their goods confiscated, some have been arrested and detained without due process while others have had their travel documents confiscated by immigration officials upon arrival into a Partner State.
All these actions slow down the integration process.
Long decision-making processes and inadequate participation of all stakeholders in decision making
Two principles are applied in decision making within the EAC: Consensual decision making and decision making by application of the principle of variable geometry. While these processes are effective, they have been seen to take long, are tedious and in some instances virtually unnecessary.
According to the EAC Secretary General, Amb. Liberat Mfumukeko, “There is need to review our decision-making process to ensure efficiency and timeliness. There are issues that have been on the table for more than eight years. Good examples are the institutional review and the alternative financing mechanisms for the Community. While the two processes have a great bearing in the running of the EAC, they have been on the discussion table for too long.”
In addition to the slow process of making decisions, key stakeholders have in many instances felt left out of the process. These include the private sector (business community), civil society organisations and other interest groups that represent interests of EAC Citizens.
Other issues that affect the process include non-attendance of meetings by some Partner States which affects quorum and leads to postponement or cancellation of key meetings. This causes delays in making decisions and implementing key activities. Burundi and South Sudan for instance failed to attend the present retreat in Kigali.
Financial and liquidity challenges
Organisations are run by finances and the EAC is no exception. Over recent years, several complaints have been received from the Secretariat on inability to conduct their affairs and hold key meetings due to lack of finances.
As of January 30th 2019, contributions by Partner States towards the EAC Main Budget stood at a dismal 45 per cent which has led to stalling, cancellation or complete non action on several core EAC activities.
It should be noted that the regional bloc also receives up to 50% of its budget from donors a fact that puts the ownership of its agenda, pace and direction of integration into question.
Lack of citizens’ awareness
The East Africa Law Society recently undertook a study on the level of awareness of one of the key institutions of the EAC, the East African Court of Justice. Our findings show that less than 50% of East Africans are aware of the existence and functions of the regional Court. This is a reflection of how well a majority of East Africans know and appreciate the existence of the Community, its organs, functions and even benefits it brings to them.
There is need therefore to create awareness on what regional integration is and the presence of various EAC policies that can serve their national and perhaps personal interests.
Lack of political good will
The Phrases “slow moving Partners” and “Coalition of the willing” have become common place in the EAC in recent years. This is attributable to the willingness with which EAC Heads of State are attributing to fast tracking the regional integration process.
For the EAC to be fully integrated, there is need for political commitment from the leaders of its constituent Partner States. These leaders must be willing to relinquish part of their national sovereign decision-making powers to the regional authority which will facilitate the achievement of broader benefits for their citizens. This includes benefits associated with larger production centres and larger markets.
The leaders must put aside their political differences and commit to working together to achieve a stronger more cohesive Community.
Article by David Sigano, East Africa Law Society