The East African Court of Justice (EACJ) has ruled that the principle of variable geometry is in perfect harmony with the requirement of consensus in decision-making at the East African Community (EAC).
Variable geometry is a principle in regional integration whereby some of the members within the community can move faster than others on some matters.
In its advisory opinion delivered on Friday by the Principal Judge of the court’s first Instance division, Justice Johnson Busingye, EACJ ruled that the principle should be applied to guide the regional integration process.
This means that a group within the EAC can go ahead on specific issues leaving behind those that are not ready to proceed at that particular time.
The EAC Council of Ministers had in February formally sought the opinion of the court on the interpretation of the EAC Treaty in regard to the principle.
Today, the legal position under the EAC Treaty emphasizes decision-making by consensus.
The judicial verdict also stated that consensus is simply a decision-making mechanism, while variable geometry is a strategy for implementation.
In a statement from the East African Law Society (EALS), Donald Deya, the organisations Chief Executive Officer, said that they would reflect on the court’s decision and issue a more detailed statement adding that if necessary convene a meeting of eminent legal and other scholars to debate further on the effect of the decision to the region.
The ruling comes at an opportune moment when the EAC is yet to decide on the direction of the much anticipated EAC Common Market Protocol by East Africans.
The protocol’s negotiations have been on for over a year with delays attributed to disagreements by partner states on some issues such as right of residency, land ownership and free movements of nationals within the region.
Two weeks ago, the final round of negotiations hit a snag in Kampala, Uganda.
They were delayed by one partner state, Tanzania, objecting to land ownership issues among the items within the protocol as well as opposing the use of national identity cards as travel documents within the region.
The draft protocol will be presented to the EAC Heads of State summit set to take place on Wednesday this week.
Tanzania is also the only country among the five partner states that voted against the fast tracking of the East African Political Federation.