The East African Legislative Assembly has been discussing the applications of Somalia and South Sudan to join the East African Community (EAC). Somalia and South Sudan do not meet the pre-requisites for membership.
High up among the pre-requisites is “adherence to universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, observance of human rights and social justice.”
Although South Sudan received juridical statehood when it gained independence on July 9, 2011, it has been struggling to achieve empirical statehood. Somalia is also a failed state, this country, together with South Sudan should not be allowed to join the EAC at this point.
In the last few years, nowhere has the dynamism of regional economic integration in Africa been more apparent than in the EAC. The EAC is planning to have a monetary union by 2023, with the ultimate goal of having a political federation.
This aspiration to form a political federation goes beyond that of any other current regional bloc anywhere in the world. To stay focused on its goals, the EAC has so far been careful not to rush in accepting new members.
It should continue to take this cautious approach, especially since it does not have a road map regarding how to help these applicants end their internal conflicts and establish good governance. Other countries that have applied to join the EAC are the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.
It is interesting that South Sudan applied to join the EAC just a few months after its independence in 2011, before it conducted any preliminary studies to determine what the implications of joining the EAC would be.
Such is the approach to regional economic integration by some countries. The civil war that broke out in South Sudan in 2013 severely weakened the government, to the point that talking about good governance with respect to South Sudan is disingenuous. The most recent peace deal is tenuous at best.
Considering the strong alliance between President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and the governments of South Sudan and Somalia, it is possible that these countries will not be kept waiting too long before they are welcomed into the EAC as members. Moreover, “good governance” is an elastic term that can be stretched, twisted, and bent to fit one’s interpretation.
The UN describes good governance as one that is “participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive, and follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.”
If this description of good governance is to be applied with sincerity, not only will all the current applicants be waiting for a long time, but the EAC itself would have to question the qualifications of some of its current members, Burundi in particular.
Burundi was accepted into the EAC in 2007 when that country was relatively stable and its future looked promising. Currently, that outlook has proven to be too optimistic. It is unlikely that the Burundi of today would have been admitted into the EAC if the “good governance” criterion were enforced.
This is one dilemma of the EAC. How can Burundi, for example, say that Somalia and South Sudan do not qualify for membership in the EAC because of a lack of good governance? That would be hypocrisy. In fact, if the EAC were to be true to itself, it would be considering suspending Burundi’s membership. Admitting Somali and South Sudan to join the EAC would be unwise and unnecessary. These countries are too unstable and lack institutional capacity to function adequately in a dynamic regional economic bloc like the EAC.
Moreover, Somalia is home to the Al Shabaab terrorist group. It would be irresponsible, if not suicidal, to allow free movement of people between Somalia and EAC countries. From an economic point of view,
Somalia and South Sudan don’t need to join the EAC for them to continue, or even to grow, trade relations with the EAC member countries.
The Comesa-EAC-Sadc Tripartite Free Trade Area (CES-TFTA) was launched in Egypt in June 2015. CES-TFTA will come into force after ratification by two-thirds of CES-TFTA members. If the CES-TFTA functions as a genuine free trade area, there will be no immediate reason for Somalia and South Sudan to join the EAC.
Somalia and South Sudan should simply apply to join Comesa, where they will have a better chance of being admitted and will only need to meet the requirements for a free trade area. The EAC is much further ahead; it is working on forming a monetary union. As members of CES-TFTA, these aspirants can enjoy the privileges of a free trade area with the EAC members, without directly being EAC members.