EAC Political Federation: Is it achievable?

For East African citizens to fully benefit from the regional integration it’s stipulated that all the four stages should be fully implemented. The stages are the common market, single customs union, monetary union and a political federation that will see member states having one government.
EAC Secretary General Dr Richard Sezibera.
EAC Secretary General Dr Richard Sezibera.

For East African citizens to fully benefit from the regional integration it’s stipulated that all the four stages should be fully implemented. The stages are the common market, single customs union, monetary union and a political federation that will see member states having one government.

The common market is being implemented and people have already started reaping high, the single customs union is under intensive negotiations to achieve as well as a single currency.

The most critical is political federation and its realization is still at an infant stage. Experts have put in place the proposed design.

According to the proposed model by the experts, five partner states will have one federal government that will possess the supremacy to the constituent states. The Federal State will be responsible for defined federal matters, while the Constituent States will remain autonomous on matters that do not fall within the Federal competence.

It is proposed that the Federal State be composed of a Federal Executive, Federal Legislature and a Federal Judiciary, with functions based on the principle of separation of powers between the three organs.

The primary purpose of the political federation is to unite the Partner States into a Federal State which is expected to have a unified political authority capable of coordinating policies and addressing the challenges associated as well as ensuring sustainable growth and development in all sectors.

The document drawn by the regional experts and obtained by Sunday Times indicates that a number of Federal institutions will need to be established including the Federal Central Bank, Federal Electoral Commission and a Federal Service Commission among others.

In an interview with Sunday Times, Dr Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, the Dean of the Faculty of Law at the National University of Rwanda, who was among the experts who drafted the document, said that before countries unite, there shall be a referendum in all partner states for the citizens to decide whether to amalgamate or not.

“The committee will discuss different issues, especially how power will be shared between the federal government and constituent state as it will be detailed in the Federal Constitution,” he said

However though the constitution will be established, countries will still have their national constitutions. Asked about the realization of the federation, the law expert observed that he was optimistic about it however, adding it needed to be backed by political will from the member states.

Ugirashebuja stated the federal government will mainly be responsible for defense, foreign policy and others to be discussed by a team of experts that would be put in place.

It is proposed that the agreed form of the federation will be governed by a Federal Constitution that will be negotiated and subjected to a referendum by the peoples of the Partner States.

Professor Augustus Nuwagaba a Senior Lecturer at Makerere University, said that East Africans were ready to federate but the problem was among the leaders who might not willingly want to leave power.

“People have already started integrating through trading among all partner states; Ugandans are inter-marrying with Rwandans, Kenyans and others and it’s the same case with others from the member countries….but the problem we have is that there are some leaders who might not accept to handover their powers,” he said in interview.

He mentioned that there was a need for a strong awareness campaign among the local citizens to understand the significance of the federation as well as ensuring equal benefit among all partner states.

“Countries must position themselves properly to benefit like it’s done in European countries; we don’t want these confusions whereby some members are benefiting more than others”.

In 2011, the team of experts released a report titled; “Addressing the fears, concerns and challenges of the East African Federation”.

According to the report, which was based on political, economic, cultural and social concerns in citizens from all partner states, concerns were raised about differences in land tenure systems of partner states and loss of land due to free movement and rights of establishment within the EAC partner states.

Reports indicate that some member countries with huge chunks of unutilized land fear to lose their land to citizens from other member states once the political federation is put in place.

Jenerali Ulimwengu a renowned media expert from Tanzania, pointed out that the only way for the region to develop, there was a need to have a federation that will deepen the integration process and elevate the development velocity.

“I think an EA federation is not only achievable but also desirable. The latter is self evident because there is always strength in unity and bigger ensembles give greater opportunities for progress in economic exchange and overall development,” he said.

Ulimwengu stated that despite the previous integration bloc that collapsed, the current partner states have shown interest in achieving the target although there is still much foot-dragging over some issues, especially land, common currency and others.

“For now, the focus should be on implementing what has been agreed upon, especially, pushing forward the agenda of the Common Market Protocol, which will form the basis for a future Federation. This will need people to address the thorny issues, such as land, over which we seem to be stalling”.

However the team recommended that partner states should harmonize their constitutions to ensure existence of presidential term limits, harmonize on the length of the presidential term, and harmonize electoral cycles and electoral processes management.

 The proposed Federation is expected to have a name which could be from among the names that include, Shirikisho la Afrika Mashariki, Federation of East African States, Federal Republic of East Africa, Federation of East Africa; and The United States of East Africa.

The team advised that that to achieve the federation, partner states should develop regional monitoring and evaluation mechanisms on issues of constitutionalism and good governance for example the  EAC peer review mechanism as well as expediting the harmonisation of the Partner States foreign, security and defence policies and practices.

However there are some issues that need to be resolved on national level like the Baganda, a tribe in Uganda that demands a federal system from the government as well as Tanzania/Zanzibar that are already unified.

The issue of federation will still be fronted at the next Summit of Heads of State in April.