By Jerry Okungu
October 30, 2009
On November30 this year, East Africans will celebrate the 10th anniversary since the second EAC treaty was signed in Arusha, Tanzania in 1999. I say the second treaty because the first one was signed in Kampala, Uganda in 1967 by the founding fathers of the original three partner states.
Dates and durations of various EA treaties make interesting reading during and after the colonial period.
They seem to have been steadier under the British rule than they became in post colonial era. At a glance, the Customs Union signed between Kenya and Uganda lasted for 22 years before Tanganyika joined.
The 1922 Treaty that admitted Tanganyika to the Customs Union lasted a good 26 years.
When the Customs Union was upgraded to the East African High Commission, it took 13 good years before it was converted in to the East African Common Services. That was on the eve of independence.
Of all the treaties that spanned over 67 years, the East African Common Services was the most short-lived, lasting just 6 years before the newly independent member states converted it to the East African Community in 1967. However, on its 10th anniversary in 1977, the EAC broke up following irreconcilable differences among member states.
The reason this year marks the defining moment in the history of the second EAC Treaty is because its predecessor broke up on its 10th birthday. We therefore can confidently say that the current one has withstood the test of time and weathered setbacks to be able to celebrate with pomp all over the region.
Perhaps one of the shining milestones of its ten year history is the fact that not only has it put in place its first pillar, the East African Customs Union which has been in operation, albeit with teething problems since January 1, 2005. Yes, despite teething problems, it has had more successes than challenges.
However, the biggest prize it won must go to the admission of Rwanda and Burundi in to its community of nations. Two years since admitting the two partner states, there seems to have been more stability in resolving conflicts and the speeding up of the negotiations towards the Common Market whose articles are ready for signing on November 20, this year.
Once this important milestone is accomplished, the borders of the five partner states will be opened, hopefully on January 1, 2010 for free flow of goods, services, persons, capital and manpower. It will mean that for the first time in 32 years, East Africans will again have the freedom to cross borders, work and settle in any of the five territories without immigration hurdles.
As part of the celebrations to mark 10 years since the EAC Treaty was signed in Arusha by Daniel arap Moi of Kenya, Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Kenya’s Ministry of East African Community launched its 5 year Strategic Plan spelling out Kenya’s role and engagement in the integration process of this economic block.
One hopes that the same bold and clearly defined roadmap to our region’s integration also took place in each of the four partner states because a good Kenyan plan without the corresponding plans from the other partners will not achieve much if we have to move together as one people.
A quick glance at Kenya’s MEAC Strategic Plan 2008-2012 reveals ambitious but well thought out goals and objectives which, if implemented, will earn Kenya her rightful place within the community. It is acutely aware that as Kenya strives to support the EAC programmes of a regional nature, it will define and refine its own strategies of maximizing benefits of the Community for the people of Kenya while at the same time balancing her national interests with those of partner states.
In this context, Kenya will strive to “abstain from any measures likely to jeopardize the achievements of EAC objectives or implementation of the Treaty”. In the same breath, Kenya will strive to deepen and widen EAC Treaty principles and objectives as contained in the 1999 document, something that Kenyans expect to be reciprocated by partner states.
However, in moving together as one region in the next decade, the challenge will be how the five member states will harmonize their administrative structures in the areas of good governance, democratic practice and the rule of law among other social dynamics.
As it is, Tanzania and Kenya already have a political system that limits the terms of their Heads of State while it is not clear yet whether Rwanda and Burundi will go the same way once they stabilize their national politics. Uganda on the other hand amended its constitution a few years ago to revert to unlimited term for president.
National politics aside; as long as the five member states can harmonize their social and economic systems, as long as they can converge security agencies and provide enough security, freedom of movement, trade and speech apply the rule of law fairly, so long as they can expand and unify democratic space as they negotiate the monetary union, East Africans will be happy to wait a little longer for Regional political unification.
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