Monday, February 06, 2006

Article forwarded to you from The Monitor

The way forward for East African Community is to take in the Sudan Okodan Akwap Kampala To move this region forward, I suggest we revisit the Treaty for Establishment of the East African Community. The time is ripe for us to address some of the outstanding challenges facing the EAC. This is a good time for us to reposition ourselves in the rapidly globalising economy. However, we first need to have the courage to admit that sheer nostalgia was part of the reason we went into all the trouble to revive a relatively small regional market. Apparently, we reasoned that since we had done this before, we could dispense with the basics and get on with the serious stuff. That is how we made the mistake of jumping to the level of a customs union as the entry point for deeper economic integration. This rush has brought us close to a crisis of overlapping memberships in regional blocs. Corrective action To correct the mistake we made in haste, we must take a decisive step back from the customs union to a point where we should have started - a free trade area. I have three arguments - all closely linked - to support this position. First, the EAC population of 95 million, comprising a big percentage of poor, underemployed and unemployed people, is still an inadequate market. Comparatively, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) has 380 million people; the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) has 430 million; and the European Union has 460 million people. Productivity and intra-regional trade can be better stimulated in such larger regional markets, driven by considerably bigger middle class private sectors. The growing demands of globalisation require that we look beyond the little hamlet that the EAC has become. Back in 1967 when the former EAC became operational, the regional grouping did indeed represent a force to reckon with. Some scholars like Prof. Sam Tulya-Muhika, who have studied its rise and fall, say that even the then European Community (EC) had something to learn from East Africa. That was then. The explosion of information technology, which went into full throttle in the 1990s and took globalisation to new heights, has introduced an altogether different ball game favouring bigger and more dynamic regional trading blocs such as Comesa. Kenya and Uganda are members of Comesa. Much of their external trade takes place within this bloc. Indeed, information from Uganda Export Promotion Board shows that Comesa overtook the EU as the lead destination of Uganda's exports in 2003. The two major markets almost tied up in 2004. Tanzania's withdrawal from Comesa in 2000 - the very year the EAC Treaty came into force - brings me to my second argument. East Africa is verging on a crisis of overlapping loyalties occasioned by Tanzania's decision and its dual membership in the EAC and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). This has brought an element of uncertainty to the EAC and its regional and global relationships. For example, last year Tanzania had to choose between EAC and SADC as a platform for participating in negotiations for Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the EU. Tanzania chose SADC. You can see how somewhat dubious Tanzania's position in the EAC already is. I suspect that when SADC sets up its own customs union in the near future, Tanzania will choose to withdraw from EAC as it will be impractical for it to belong to both customs unions. It would probably be better if Tanzania withdrew sooner rather than later. All that rhetoric about East African countries having strong bonds based on a common history, a common culture, a common language, a common aspiration etc, is hogwash. In international relations, notions of "brotherhood" or "sisterhood" are secondary. National interests are paramount. That is how things have been since as early as 1648 when the Treaty of Westphalia ended the 30-year-war in Europe (1618-1648), bringing into being a new and aggressive actor on the global stage - the nation-state. This actor remains distinguished by its unabashed pursuit of selfish national interests. Better for all If Tanzania feels that SADC serves its national interests better, it may well be that Comesa provides a better option for the national interests of Kenya and Uganda. Comesa too will in the near future set up its own customs union. Tanzania's departure from EAC would make it very easy for Kenya and Uganda to fit into this larger arrangement, along with other neighbours like Sudan. Here I get to my third argument. When negotiations for reviving the EAC were going on in the 1990s, Sudan was in the middle of a long, bloody civil war between the Khartoum government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). Relations between Uganda and Sudan were at an all-time low. Kampala accused Khartoum of supporting the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels. Khartoum accused Kampala of supporting SPLA. The bad blood disrupted trade between the two neighbouring states. However, circumstances have changed. The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Nairobi on January 9, 2005 brought peace to Sudan and flung open doors of possibilities in that oil-rich country. For Kenya and Uganda, in particular, a new frontier has opened that demands a closer look. Currently, businesspeople from the two countries are making big profits in Southern Sudan, where everything - including alcohol - is in very high demand. Kenya has had its eye on strong partnership with Sudan for a long time. Twenty-three years ago, Nairobi rooted for Khartoum to be included in plans to set up a new East African Community. Perhaps the moment has arrived for that goal to be realised. With Tanzania out of the picture, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan could become the nucleus of "a brand new EAC" that probably would include Rwanda, Burundi, Eritrea and Ethiopia. All of these countries are Comesa members. They would not find it too difficult either to retain the EAC or to get rid of it altogether and just be in Comesa. The former EAC died in 1977. The current EAC should give way to a brand new arrangement. Contact: Click here to visit The Monitor website:

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