East African Community at 20: So much done, so much to do

On November 30, 2019, the East African Community (EAC) will be celebrating 20 years of existence. Lest we forget, it was on November 30, 1999 at Sheikh Amri Abeid Memorial Stadium in Arusha, Tanzania that three heads of state of the Republic of Uganda, the Republic of Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania, put pen to paper to sign the treaty reviving the EAC.

Again, to jog our memory, the EAC had earlier been established from 1967 and it collapsed 10 years later in 1977.

The current EAC 20-year journey has been remarkable, the inevitable challenges notwithstanding. The framers of the Treaty establishing the EAC envisaged a community that would be anchored on four pillars. This is aptly captured in Article 5 where, the Partner States undertook “to establish among themselves, a Customs Union, a Common Market, subsequently a Monetary Union and ultimately a Political Federation”.

The Partner States have signed and ratified three protocols in line with these pillars. Implementation of these protocols is at various stages with a commendable degree of success. The pillars are very crucial forerunners to the ultimate goal of Political Federation.

Thus, in 2017, the EAC heads of state agreed on Political Confederation as a transitional model to full East African Political Federation. All the Partner States have, accordingly, nominated experts and set up a team that is currently working on the confederation constitution. Uganda’s former Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki and Makerere University’s Prof Murindwa Rutanga are part of this team.

When asked to highlight the salient achievements of the 20-year EAC integration, one is spoilt for choice. Nonetheless some do stand out. The most outstanding being that the community is now six partner states with Rwanda and Burundi acceding to the EAC Treaty in 2007 and the Republic of South Sudan becoming a member in August 2016.

The EAC now covers a land area of more than 2.3 million square kilometres, with a population more than 170 million people and a combined GDP of more than $170 billion. And this is not mere expansion in figures. The progress registered has endeared the EAC to its neighbours with basically all of them applying to join, including Somalia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While the EAC has up to 19 areas of cooperation as envisioned in the the Treaty, it is in the area of intra-EAC trade that big strides have been made. In a December 2018 press statement, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) noted that, ‘intra-EAC trade, while low compared to regions outside Africa, is the highest among regional economic communities in Africa at 19.35 per cent of exports”.