Wednesday, June 30, 2010



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

June 30, 2010

On July 1, 1977, the then East African Community disintegrated after its budget for 1977/78 failed to pass during the June 10 1977 budget debate. Exactly 33 years later, East Africans witnessed yesterday the reopening of its borders for goods, services and persons under the new Common Market arrangement.

The East African Community (EAC) is a regional economic block comprising the five east African countries of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. With a land surface area of 1.8 sq km and a combined population of 130 million, it is an economic power house with a consumer base that can only be matched by Nigeria in West Africa. The two elements are what drive East Africans and foreign investors alike in nudging the region to integrate its market sooner rather than later.

While generally, member nations are largely in favor of the East African Federation, informal polls have always indicated that most Tanzanians are not in favor. The reason Tanzanians are reluctant to federate now has got to do with historical fears and anxieties based on their frosty relations with Kenya and Uganda since independence. Another fear is that because Tanzania has more land than the other EAC nations combined, its citizens fear that their land would be grabbed by the current residents of partner states particularly land hungry Kenyans.

Land scarcity is a recurring issue in East Africa, particularly in Kenya, where clashes on the Kenyan side of Mount Elgon in 2007 and many parts of Rift Valley have claimed many lives in recent years.

The first major step in establishing the East African Federation since the collapse of 1967 Treaty in July 1997 was the revival of the Customs Union in East Africa signed in March 2004 which commenced on 1 January 2005. Under the terms of this treaty, Kenya, the region's most industrialized and largest exporter would continue to pay duties on its goods entering the other four countries until 2010, based on a declining scale. A common system of tariffs would apply to goods imported from third-party countries.

The EAC was originally founded in 1967, but collapsed on July 1 1977 due to ideological political differences among then heads of state. It was officially revived on 7 July 2000.

Of all the EAC member states, Tanzania has had a relatively peaceful history since achieving independence, in contrast to the wars and civil strife that have occurred in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. Today, East Africa seeks to maintain stability and prosperity in the midst of ongoing conflicts in the D.R. Congo, the Horn of Africa, and Southern Sudan.

Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have had a history of co-operation dating back to the early 20th century, including the Customs Union between Kenya and Uganda in 1917, which the then Tanganyika joined in 1927, the East African High Commission from 1948-1961, the East African Common Services Organization from 1961-1967 and the East African Community from 1967-1977.

Inter-territorial co-operation between Kenya Colony, Uganda Protectorate and Tanganyika Territory was first formalized in 1948 by the East African High Commission. This provided a Customs Union, a common external tariff, currency and postage; and also dealt with common services in transport and communications, research and education.

Following independence, these integrated activities were reconstituted and the High Commission was replaced by the East African Common Services Organization, which many observers thought would lead to a political federation between the three territories. The new organization ran into difficulties because of lack of joint planning and fiscal policy, separate political policies and Kenya's dominant economic position.

In 1967 the East African Common Services Organization was superseded by the East African Community. This body aimed to strengthen the ties between member states through a Common Market, a common Customs tariff and a range of public services so as to achieve balanced economic growth within the region.

On July 1 1977, the East African Community collapsed after ten years due to demands by Kenya to have more seats than Uganda and Tanzania in decision-making organs, amid disagreements caused by dictatorship under Idi Amin in Uganda, socialism in Tanzania, and capitalism in Kenya. In the end the three member states lost over sixty years of co-operation and the benefits of economies of scale. Each of the former member states had to embark, at great expense and at lower efficiency, upon the establishment of services and industries that had previously been provided at the Community level.

16 years later, Presidents Moi of Kenya, Mwinyi of Tanzania, and Museveni of Uganda signed the Treaty for East African Co-operation in Arusha, Tanzania, on 30 November 1993, and established a Tri-partite Commission for Co-operation. A process of re-integration was embarked on involving tripartite programs of co-operation in political, economic, social and cultural fields, research and technology, defense, security, legal and judicial affairs.

It is argued that key drivers for Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in the quest for regional integration are that Kenya wishes to export surplus capital as Uganda seeks an outlet for its surplus labor while Tanzania wants to realize a Pan-African vision. However, it is also argued that commonalities go far deeper than these economic and political benefits. Many national elites old enough to remember the former Community often share memories and a sharp sense of loss following its eventual dissolution.

However, cynics argue that this historical ambition provides the potential for current politicians to present themselves as statesmen of a higher order and as representatives of a greater regional interest. Furthermore, EAC institutions bring significant new powers to buy loyalty from those who serve in them.

Some even question the extent to which the visions of a political union are shared outside the elite and the relatively elderly East Africans, further arguing that the youthful masses are not well informed about the process and benefits in any of the countries. While others point to an enhanced sense of East African identity developing from modern communications, commitment to the formal EAC idea is relatively narrow, in both social and generational terms and thus many question the timetable drawn up for the project.

Fast-tracking political union was first discussed in 2004 and enjoyed a consensus on the subject among the then three heads of state. Following this executive consensus, a high-level committee headed by Hon. Amos Wako of Kenya was commissioned to investigate the possibility of speeding up the process of integration so as to achieve political federation sooner than previously visualized. Yet there were concerns that rapid changes would inject reactionary politics against the project.

There is an argument however, that there are high costs that would be required at the beginning and that fast-tracking the project would allow the benefits to be seen earlier. There however, remain significant political differences between the states. Museveni’s success in obtaining his third-term amendment in 2005 raised serious concerns in the other countries. The single-party dominance in the Tanzanian and Ugandan parliaments was seen as unattractive to Kenyans, while Kenya's ethnic-politics made many people apprehensive in Tanzania.

Rwanda has had a distinctive political culture with a political elite committed to building a developmental state, partly in order to safeguard the Tutsi group against a return to ethnic violence.

Other problems dogging the EAC political integration are to do with some states being reluctant to relinquish involvement in other regional groups, e.g. Tanzania’s withdrawal from COMESA but staying within the SADC bloc

Many Tanzanians are also concerned that creating a Common Market means removing obstacles to the free movement of both labor and capital. Free movement of labor may be perceived as highly desirable in Uganda and Kenya, and have important developmental benefits in Tanzania, however in Tanzania there is widespread resistance to the idea of ceding land rights to foreigners including citizens of Kenya and Uganda.

Jerry Okungu

Wikipedia and Internet sources