The 12-member Committee of Experts tasked to draft the East African Community (EAC) constitution towards political integration is already on its way.
It anticipates a two-step process to set up the stipulated political pillar.
The first step is the establishment of a confederation between countries in the region, currently numbering six with the inclusion of South Sudan, before attainment of political federation prescribed in the 1999 EAC Treaty.
The draft constitution, expected to be complete in three years time by 2021, will lay the legal basis for a confederate political arrangement.
By definition, a confederation is a group of states united for a common purpose and prepared to cede limited sovereign prerogatives in pursuit of a specific objective.
A federation would require the states ceding all their sovereign rights to an EAC super state, something the member countries appear not prepared for at the moment.
That said, like many East Africans on a frequent cross-border errand or another, it piqued more than my personal interest how the arrangement might look like.
This includes the sceptics, some of whom don’t see the political pillar standing anytime soon, if at all.
While they may have a point reading from the slow and bumpy pace of integration, many observers have been lamenting, it can’t be all there is.
One needs only look around, with the most obvious place to look being the European Union, which offers the most probable confederate scenario to draw from.
It is the most integrated region in the world; even the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has previously had to look up to it for inspiration.
The EU model somewhat lends itself for comparison with EAC, particularly if one considers its core institutions – the EU Commission, Council of Ministers, the EU Parliament, and the Court of Justice.
The only major difference is the Commission. The EAC already has the other institutions already in place, though they may not necessarily mirror their EU counterparts.
It may appear, then, the EU Commission might hold a clue. However, as I came to realise the more I dug through to get a likely picture, it is more a power play between the institutions that politically define the EU as something of a confederation.
Thus, comparing it to a likely EAC scenario, one can imagine a proposal in the draft constitution for a supranational institution such as the EU Commission, which functions as the European Union’s executive.
It, however, is not like a central government empowered to dictate policies to the member states.
It comprises of politicians (who are the commissioners) from the member states. The commissioners’ work is coordinated by a president appointed by the Council of Ministers and confirmed by the Parliament.
Also note that, while the Commission administers the EU’s activities and is responsible for initiating legislation, it requires the assent of the Council of Ministers and the Parliament.
Indeed, both the Council and the Parliament collectively function as a legislative branch. The Council operates like the senate or upper house, with one member per country.
As the case may be, the council may comprise, say, of national ministers for foreign affairs for political and international and other diplomatic issues, agriculture ministers when agricultural policy is discussed, or finance ministers when monetary and fiscal matters are discussed. An arrangement somewhat akin this already exists in the EAC.
Clearly, however, as the world now knows, the EU has its issues, specifically as perceived by some of the leading Brexiteers about the “EU bureaucracy” informing some of the concerns in their push for Britain to exit the EU.
What should be of interest in the draft EAC constitution, therefore, are how the powers of the institutions and the powers of national governments will interact, and the extent of their subservience to one another at the regional and national levels.
What is certain is that political integration will call for some degree of sacrifice by all the regional governments in order for all to benefit.
This is obvious. But a typical example, as has been suggested, is how taxation systems should perform a redistributive role in a region that is politically integrated.
Only if a sufficient sense of community exists is it possible for the redistributive mechanisms to operate without controversy.
For now, there’ve been some brewing controversies that need to have been sorted out such as the latest round of tariff and non-tariff barriers blighting the common market.
Another challenge, among others, observers are asking to be looked into is the slow implementation process threatening to delay the scheduled launch of the single currency.
All told, however, putting aside the seeming fissures in the bloc, one cannot mistake the optimism in launching the Committee of Experts to draw the EAC constitution even as the bumps on the road to full integration are being cleared.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.