Ratification of a 2013 protocol meant to promote peace, security, stability and good inter-nation relations within the East African Community (EAC) should be taken as a matter of urgency, regional lawmakers have said.
The EAC Peace and Security Protocol, ,signed by five partner states in February 2013 (before entry of South Sudan) following more than four years of negotiations has only been ratified by Rwanda and Uganda.
In separate interviews, last week, the lawmakers said it is incumbent upon the partner states that have not ratified to do so “as a matter of urgency.”
“We need to have a legal framework and some peace and security architecture implemented in the region to be able to engage on matters of peace and security,” said MP Mike Sebalu (Uganda), a member of the Committee on Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA).
“The most difficult and most challenging aspect is negotiation. When you have negotiated and reached an agreement on how you want such instruments to be and provided a regulatory framework, the ratification is the timely end of the process. It should be the easiest thing to do because the details are considered at the stage of negotiation.”
Sebalu said it “gives me a bit of trouble” to see that partner states negotiate instruments but develop jelly knees when it comes to ratifying them.
“There has always been a constant recommendation imploring partner states to append their signatures and ratify. We have always been given assurances by the council of ministers and the deputy secretary general in charge of political federation, where the peace and security docket falls, that countries yet to ratify are in process of doing so,” he said.
A January report by the Committee on Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution indicated that establishment of the Peace and Security Protocol can only be possible once ratification of the protocol is completed and implementation commences.
‘Delay affects intervention efforts’
Richard Owora, head of corporate communication and public affairs at the EAC Secretariat in Arusha, Tanzania, said delayed ratification is affecting activation of interventions in areas that are not explicitly covered by the EAC Treaty and which were identified as contemporary security issues that require collective action.
So far, Owora explained, the bulk of interventions being implemented are “domiciled in the Regional Strategy for Peace and Security” as approved by the EAC Council of Ministers.
In 2014, EAC conducted a security threat assessment of the region focused on conflict dynamics; emerging threats, and the need to adopt appropriate measures. The outcome of the assessment informed the updating of the EAC Regional Strategy on Peace and Security, which was adopted by the Council last November.
Noting that “it is unfortunate” that some partner states have not yet ratified the protocol, EALA Speaker Daniel Kidega asked partner states “to do the right thing.”
Kidega said: “We appeal to partner states that have not yet ratified the EAC Peace and Security Protocol to do so because peace and security is the major ingredient of all the things that we do if we want to liberate our people from poverty.”
The protocol also seeks prevention of genocide, combating terrorism and piracy, management of refugees, exchange of prisoners, detention, custody and rehabilitation of offenders, and disaster management and co-ordination of humanitarian assistance.
Under the protocol, partner states also undertake to protect the people and safeguard the development of the Community against instability.
Other regional officials observe that lack of political will is the reason why the partner states are dragging their feet as regards ratification of the protocol.
A senior EAC official, who preferred anonymity in order to speak freely, said lack of ratification by all member countries implies that objectives of the protocol, including implementing the strategy on regional peace and security, cannot be fulfilled.
“The objectives therein cannot be adequately achieved without the ratification of the protocol,” the official said.
According to the official, “it is also important to note that the Council of Ministers during past meetings tied the establishment and operationalisation of the EAC peace and security department to the ratification of this protocol.”
The EAC Peace and Security Protocol also requires countries to commit to prevent, contain and resolve conflicts and disputes among and within partner states.
“Even if it was ratified and there was no political will, I wonder whether it would make any sense. For instance, the EAC Protocol on Cooperation in Defence was ratified, but is it useful considering the case of Burundi?” the official asked.
Cooperation in Defence Affairs
Meanwhile, the EAC Protocol on Cooperation in Defence Affairs entered into force on November 19, 2015, after all partner states ratified it. Among others, it requires partner states to negotiate and conclude a mutual defence pact within a year upon entry into force.
In May, last year, the Sectoral Council on Cooperation in Defence directed the Secretariat to develop a roadmap and action plan to guide the process of negotiations and formulation of mutual defence pact.
“Currently, the Secretariat is coordinating the process of negotiation and formulation of the EAC mutual defence pact in accordance with the roadmap and action plan approved in December,” Owara said.
The Secretariat, he added, is coordinating the implementation of the Protocol on Cooperation in Defence Affairs.
The protocol requires each partner state to second to the EAC Secretariat a military officer of the rank not below Colonel, and all partner states – except South Sudan– have complied.
Owora said: “The absence of a defence liaison officer from South Sudan hampers implementation of the protocol and breaks the coordination between the armed forces of South Sudan and the Secretariat.”