Rwanda and Burundi officially the EA community in July 2007 but the two countries still have to settle some issues to progressively move with the rest of the member states. There is need to harmonize domestic issues and convince their legislative bodies to ratify the treaty, as the issue of Political Federation reaches its peak.
Rwanda and Burundi, like their counterparts, are supposed to consult their population about fast tracking the federation. The time table was drawn by the former three countries but I believe with Tanzania not supporting fast tracking and with two new countries on board the time table is more likely to be altered.
Consultations are likely to be far reaching, but mostly focus on asking the population which includes the private sector, academicians, politicians, local government, parliamentarians, business sector and the civil society including women and youths about political federation.
We have to be told the fears and opportunities, and what form of federation we should have. Also, issues of the qualifications and term of office of the president and other central government officials is likely to be top on agenda; how much power should be left to federal states and how much or which powers should be surrendered by federal states to central government.
Let’s refocus on the past and see why the EAC collapsed so that we do not repeat the same mistakes. Looking back there were three major factors that led to the collapse of the cooperation. These are intra-community political differences, differences on sharing the benefits from the jointly owned services and lack of policy to redress the situation and low participation of civil society and private sector in the running and decision making of the community.
The questions today are: have we addressed these issues? Will the same mistakes not recur? Is the quest for political federation genuine, do we have any precedence we are following, or we are just driven by excitement?
I want us to explore critically the reasons put forward for fast tracking federation and the time framework and see if it is realistic.
Meaning of federation
Political federation means a compound of polity uniting constituent units (federal states) which include Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi; and a general government each posting powers delegated to its people through a constitution.
Political federation will mean one border, one federal government with a new name, federal anthems, flag, federal court of justice, federal legislature to mention some. We shall have one central government while the current governments will be federal states. The federal states will surrender some of their powers and functions to the central government.
Economically federation implies one central bank, common currency, customs union, one capital market (stock exchange centralized).
We have two approaches to Integration or union top-down approaches and bottom-up approach. The first one is commonly known as Kwame Nkrumah’s approach. Political Integration is a tool that brings about integration in other spheres. He urged that "Seek ye the first the political kingdom and everything else shall be added onto you."
The other is bottom-up approach which is known as functionalism. This assumes that integration is promoted piecemeal as to build a web of functional relations in different areas such as trade, investment, infrastructure, culture etc. He advanced that this arrangement with political federation brings a logical culmination of integration process from below.
The current EAC is taking the two approaches. However, recently emphasis has been put on the first one. The target has been 2010 as the year to have achieved Political Federation. This came after the three East African Heads of State (Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya) in 2004 felt that the rate at which federation was moving was very slow and therefore needed to quicken it. They formed a fast tracking federation committee. The committee findings included recommendations such as compression of current stages of Customs Union, Common Market, Monetary Union and Political Federation, an overlapping parallel integration and immediate establishment of East African Federation.
With the entry of Rwanda and Burundi into EAC, there is need to provide enough time to harmonize their internal policies and procedures to that of EAC, and sensitize their population about EAC and Political federation. The time looks short for the new entrants and therefore unrealistic. Even the former three EAC members’ population is not fully aware of political federation and therefore we must allocate time for mobilisation and education rather than jumping into it. Back home to individual member states: there are issues to first settle such as relationships between domestic bodies and the central EAC bodies. Take an example of relationship between EALA and national legislation. Their relationship has not been smooth; EALA makes regular reports to national legislations for discussion and domestication but rarely do national legislation debate EALA reports. This is probably because the domestic politics is inward looking and therefore take precedence.
There is still political differences in the current EAC members, like domestic deficits, internal problems and thus not easy to forge a political federation. We need time to harmonize this, thus gradual process of integration may allow the opportunity to settle our differences.
I believe that there is need for building a block approach to integration rather than rushing into it. This means making sure that Custom Union works first, then to converge to economic policies, cross border investment and ultimately to Political federation. The political environment is not ripe yet, so we better not rush it.
Normally when any one is to implement a new policy, he looks at the past and where else the policy has been successful to analyse its worthiness and application. We do not have a successful precedent anywhere in the world where Political Federation preceded economic integration. This calls for critical thinking before action.
I think the fast tracking political federation is politically driven but we should focus on the entire interests of our citizens rather than a few individuals.
The writer is a political scientist