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East African Partner States Pulling in Different Directions: What Are the Implications for the East African Community?

A worker stands on the fourth floor of a new building that will house the Lamu port headquarters

The East African Community (EAC) partner states signed the East African Monetary Union (EAMU) Protocol on November 30, 2013 in Kampala. This is despite emerging cracks within the EAC, which are likely to affect the future pace of regional integration.  A number of trends have developed since June that point to the growing mistrust among the member countries. Key among them is the souring relationship between Tanzania and Rwanda and the exclusion of Tanzania and Burundi in key regional meetings. Another red flag is the recent postponement or cancellation of several EAC sectoral council meetings scheduled ahead of the signing of the EAMU protocol.

Between May and July 2013, a diplomatic row erupted between Tanzania and Rwanda after Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete urged the Rwandan government to open talks with the Democratic Forces for Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a remnant Hutu militia group that is based in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This remark was followed by the expulsion of illegal Rwandan immigrants in the Kagera region of Tanzania. These two developments have resulted in a diplomatic standoff between the two countries. Furthermore, Tanzania has contributed troops to the United Nations Intervention Brigade in the eastern DRC, a development that Rwanda seemed not to have taken kindly.

In June, the presidents of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda met in Entebbe, Uganda in what came to be referred to as the “Coalition of the Willing,” that is, EAC states that are committed to fast-tracking the integration process. The three countries believe that the EAC negotiations have been complicated by the fact that Tanzania belongs to Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) while the rest of members belong to Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), from which Tanzania pulled out in 2001. Tanzania and Burundi did not attend the Entebbe summit, although the latter had been invited. The feeling between the three member countries present was that the other two are dragging their feet on matters of integration. During the Entebbe meeting, the three countries agreed to fast-track infrastructural development. Key projects discussed included the construction of standard-gauge railway from Mombasa to Kigali, the extension of an oil pipeline from Kenya through Kampala in Uganda to Kigali in Rwanda, the construction of a Ugandan oil refinery and an electricity interconnection plan between the three countries, among other initiatives.  They also discussed a plan to establish political federation.

The second meeting of the heads of state of the Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda was held in August in Mombasa. In this meeting, Burundi was represented by a ministerial delegation but Tanzania was not invited. A third meeting followed in late October in Kigali, and, again, Tanzania and Burundi did not attend. During the two meetings, the leaders present reiterated that the summit was an initiative to fast-track regional development through infrastructure growth, trade, and political and economic integration.

The fact that regional issues, including the establishment of a political federation, easing of restrictions on movement of people, the launch of a single tourist visa, and elimination of work permit fees among residents of the three countries, were discussed without all five EAC members was noticeable. Because of this, the other two countries have expressed concern that they are being sidelined in the discussion of key projects in the region. Recently the Tanzania minister for East African Affairs pointed out that the three member countries were contravening Article 7(1) of EAC protocol, which says, “Even though this Article allows member countries to enter bilateral or trilateral agreements, it is a must that issues under consideration for implementation under this arrangement are fully discussed and agreed upon by all member countries.”

With this general animosity between countries in the background, several initiatives meant for the full implementation of the integration are likely to be delayed.  The first issue of concern is whether the targets set under the proposed EAMU protocol will be realized in time for the adoption of a single currency in 2023. Second, the full implementation of a common market protocol, which provides for the free movement of people, services, labor and capital among the countries, may take longer than the scheduled date of 2015. Among the issues likely to be delayed include: the adoption of a common visa for regional tourism and an EAC passport; the elimination of work permits among the member countries; and the elimination of yellow fever certificates required by Tanzania. Third, the emerging divisions are likely to slow the implementation of the remaining phases of the establishment of the custom union. Key among them is the adoption of a Single Customs Territory, the adoption of the EAC Industrialization Policy and Strategy, and the adoption of EAC Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Protocol.

Overall, the emerging mistrust is likely to affect trade among the member countries, which is likely to impact on their economic growth, considering that Tanzania is a main export destination for Kenyan and Ugandan products. Likewise, the EAC is Tanzania’s second biggest trading partner after South Africa. In light of the major potential implications this mistrust could have, policymakers in the region should make seeking a solution a priority in order to prevent a major split in the EAC. 

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