By George Kalisa
The East Africa Law Society (EALS) wrote to the Secretary General of the East African Community, Amb Dr Richard Sezibera, on September 5, echoing grave concern that the trilateral arrangements among Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda excluding the Republic of Tanzania and Burundi in key East African Community talks were in bad faith and undermined the spirit of integration.
Observers in the region now feel the members of bar got it wrong.
Article 7 Section One, Sub-section (e) of the EAC Treaty provides for the principle of variable geometry, which is widely practiced by the European Union, allows partner states to implement programmes, projects and decisions at different paces due to varied levels or priorities.
"Principle of variable geometry" means the principle of flexibility, which allows for progression in co-operation among a sub-group of members in a larger integration scheme in a variety of areas and at different speeds…” reads the Article in parts.
Therefore, some partner states may opt out of implementation process totally due to national priorities and realities, while others could go ahead with implementation within bilateral or trilateral arrangements as was the case with the Entebbe June summit on infrastructure.
The learned friends urge it was wrong for Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya to assign themselves roles in regard to the implementation process on capital intensive infrastructure projects, saying it was traditionally a preserve of the entire East African Community.
They, also, observe that this could have sent a wrong signal to the people of EAC block that a process to sideline, particularly, Tanzanian had started vis-à-vis the recent misunderstandings with Rwanda. This was unnecessary speculation on the part of the lawyers.
Alternatively, the EALS calls for consensus with the two partner states that never attended the Entebbe summit.
The recently concluded Second Summit on Infrastructure at Mombasa was reviewing the progress of the implementation of the decisions reached at Entebbe to which Tanzanian was not party.
No wonder, Tanzania never attended the August Summit. When a cancer specialist invites cancer patients to have a review of their progress, it becomes irrelevant for cardiac patients to attend.
Partner states went for the principle variable geometry, after the principle of consensus had proved difficult either to lack of quorum and non-attendance leading to unnecessary delays in decision making process and implementation of projects.
But, the law body was quick to forget the reason why the amendment that entrenched the principle of variable geometry in the EAC Treaty was made.
A report by the Sectoral Council on Legal and Judicial Affairs, Kenya and Uganda said, hitherto to this amendment that regional meetings had been derailed by non-attendance and lack of quorum, making Partner states lag behind in the decision-making process and implementation of projects.
The report, also, raised a concern of varying rates of economic growth, socio-economic factors and national policies. Hence, the variable geometry principle was adopted as a solution and it is in harmony with the principle of consensus when one holistically looks at the EAC Treaty.
In my opinion, the bilateral and trilateral arrangements among partner states help to strengthen the integration, speed up the process of integration, and renew the political will among the states involved to pursue the political federation.
To this effect, the fears of the EALS are unfounded and should not derail partner states in the EAC block that may wish to take their cooperation to another level.
I, also, think the lawyers should wait for Tanzania and Burundi to petition the countries involved in trilateral arrangements before they call for consensus method.
The writer is the Editor of the Rwanda Dispatch