The East African Community (EAC) is considered one of the world’s fastest and most progressive economic blocs, but despite the huge strides taken by the member states, splits have emerged. David Mugabe examines why Tanzania is anxious about the integration.
During the September 2013 Westgate attack, the East African Community (EAC) secretariat in Arusha Tanzania attempted to mobilise and transfer blood and blood products to Nairobi to assist the victims of the terror attack.
The noble initiative did not succeed because of the complexities of moving such delicate matter such as blood.
Blood is the single most binding factor in the EAC because almost all the ethnic tribes in the region are similar in one way or another. But more splits are emerging within the bloc and the fears are now being expressed more openly, the blood linkages aside.
Early this week, Tanzania protested against the joint infrastructure undertakings of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. This has raised a major test to what is considered one of the world’s fastest and most progressive economic blocs.
EAC is unique in many ways. Above all, it is the only kind pushing for a political federation. It is also one of the fastest integrating blocks, so much that in just one decade, three protocols are almost done, including the customs union, common market and now the monetary union (in November).
But on Monday, Tanzanian government poured cold water on the progress - a development that observers say will test the staying power of this integrating region. Feeling isolated, Tanzania described the undertakings as “illegal.”
Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda’s move to kick-start joint building of roads and rail was seen as a spat in the face of Tanzania who was dragging its feet on the integration.
Tanzania says the projects under deliberation by the tripartite meetings of Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, should have been endorsed first by all the EAC member countries.
The suggestion by Tanzania is that bi-lateral or tri-lateral agreements need consensus before implementation. “This is notwithstanding the fact that the coalition of the three countries in exclusion of Tanzania and Burundi is being run under their respective foreign affairs dockets and not through the EAC secretariat,” said Tanzania.
Decisions in the EAC are made by consensus and no partner state is compelled to append its approval to that of the other member states.
Article 7(1) (e) of the EAC Protocol allows member countries to enter bi-lateral or tri-lateral agreements, but Tanzania says it is a must that issues under consideration for implementation are fully agreed upon by all member countries.
During a recent meeting in Nairobi, EAC secretary general Richard Sezibera cautioned the region against division and fear saying: “Those who do not want us united will always look for things to divide us.” But central to the recent protest is a dicey political issue of residency and the legal status of a state’s citizens’ presence in another.
What is clear, however, is that no single country has not fallen short in implementing a signed protocol or dragged its feet in one matter. There are, however, specific cases where Tanzania has either completely not agreed with or slowed down negotiations with its partners.
Tanzania recently expelled Rwanda, Burundi and some Uganda refugees who had lived in the country for generations, some of whom were even separated from their partners.
About 25,000 refugees were expelled by Tanzania for what was described as their illegal status. To diffuse the crisis, Sezibera wants the states to meet.
“We want to address the issue for the long-term. The puzzling question is having an illegal immigrant in a common market,” said Sezibera. Despite this integration set back, the EAC states have been credited for giving away a lot of their sovereignty
In August 2012, Tanzania imposed a 33% increase in work permit fees on residents of other East African Community member states. This was the first test to the EAC common market signed in 2010 that among others allowed free movement of people.
In the same year, there was a protest from Kenyan transporters over a new $200 fee that Tanzania Revenue Authority introduced on vehicles crossing into its territory. But Tanzania is not alone in imposing arbitrary fees. In 2012, Kenyan instituted a cash bond that required Ugandan bound cargo to deposit cash cover for the same goods, a move that was considered a new barrier.
Passport versus identity cards
Also, Tanzania has been opposed to the use of national identity cards as a travel document within the East African Community member states
In 2008, Tanzania again did not mince its words on the question of land ownership in East Africa. Tanzania openly stated that there would be no land deal in the East African Community. Sezibera has asked members to put their fears on the side and build a community “which is a depository of all our hopes, celebrate our differences and take the risk of being one people and not an aggregate of all our fears and a “community of one fearful people.”