Can East Africa Overcome Obstacles and Unify the Region?

Fredrick Ngugi Apr 7, 2016 at 04:51am

April 07, 2016 at 04:51 am | News, Opinions & Features

Fredrick Ngugi

Fredrick Ngugi | Contributor

April 07, 2016 at 04:51 am | News, Opinions & Features

Flags of the various East African Community member states. (Photo: migration.eac.int)

The East African Community has made tremendous progress since its formation in 2004. There has been significant regional collaboration and noteworthy impact on regional growth. A key example is the EAC’s GDP which has risen from $20 billion in 1999 to $75 billion as of 2015. The region also boasts a bigger market with a populace of at least 130 million people. From the original three member states; Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the membership has increased to six, integrating Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

Going by these successes, the community hopes to expand further with the Democratic Republic of Congo having already expressed interest to join. However, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for the EAC as it continues to face numerous challenges in its attempts to realize its objectives.

Peace and Security

The continued civil strife in countries like South Sudan, Somalia and Burundi has posed great challenge to the realization of a healthy integration. Questions have been raised regarding the EAC’s reluctance to address the ongoing civil unrest in Burundi following a disputed presidential election in April 2015.

Instead of the East African Community weighing in on the crisis, they surrendered the responsibility to the African Union, which has not achieved much as it awaits permission from the UN to send AU peacekeepers to the war-torn Burundi.

There has also been a significant delay in ending the civil war in South Sudan. The standoff between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar broke out in 2013 and has been going on up to this day. Vested political interests among EAC leaders have been noted as the major impediment in ending the crisis.

Corruption

Cases of mega-corruption in member states have been a major challenge to regional integration. Although numerous attempts have been made to tame this vice, very little has been achieved as instances of mass looting of public resources are still being reported. It appears that leaders in these countries have lost the war against corruption.

The hope of winning this war remains dismal since most of the EAC leaders are reluctant to relinquish power. A good case in point is Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni who has been in power for three decades.

Poor Governance

The majority, if not all, of East African Community partner states are struggling with issues of poor governance. Even with numerous political parties, most East African countries enjoy little or no democracy.

Basic human rights such as freedom of expression and assembly are still under great threat in countries like Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda. Opposition in these countries faces constant harassment and intimidation by their governments, which makes it hard for them to sell their ideologies.

However, citizens of the East African Community remain hopeful that their leaders will work out ways to address these challenges and formulate a better plan that will effectively lead to the realization of true economic integration.

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