Presidents Museveni (Uganda), Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), and Paul Kagame (Rwanda) have strengthened their resolve to fast-track the East African political federation without two principals Burundi and Tanzania, emerging details from last week’s summit in Mombasa show.
The meeting had been called to discuss infrastructure projects among the three countries, but at the sidelines of the meeting, the three leaders resolved to leave out their more cautious neighbours Tanzania and Burundi. But the state minister for East African Community Affairs, Shem Bageine, downplayed fears that the exclusion of Burundi and Tanzania would cause a diplomatic row in the region.
“That was a consultation. It is not true that the member states agreed to move leaving out others,” he said of the Mombasa meet.
“What I know is that they were discussing infrastructure projects and the political federation issue came as a by-the-way.”
Referring to Article 7(e) of the East African Treaty, Bageine told us that the three leaders had a right to meet and take such decisions using the principle of flexibility, which allows some of the members to progress faster.
However, sources privy to the Mombasa meeting, say the three presidents agreed not to use the formal structures to push their agenda. Instead, the meeting resolved on a draft constitution for a federation. That task was assigned to ministers, not holding the East African Affairs docket.
“Whoever is denying that is not in the know or is keeping it a secret for selfish reasons known to themselves,” said one source privy to the developments.
These same sources indicate that the idea of a federation is least popular in Tanzania compared to the three partner states now pushing the idea.
In 2011, experts released a report “Addressing the fears, concerns and challenges of the East African Federation”, which found that differences in the land tenure systems of partner states and possible loss of land due to free movement of people and rights of establishment within the EAC partner states, were still major concerns. The report recommended that the states take an active role in resolving the concerns.
The desire to fast-track the regional political federation is not new. However, observers have noted that Tanzania is more cautious. This attitude has frustrated some presidents like Museveni.
While visiting an agricultural show in Kenya last week, he drop a hint when he said: “we have been suffering from a sort of political anemia on the issue of integration, but with the election in Kenya of these young gentlemen — Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto — we have got new blood supply.”
Dan Kidega, one of Ugandan representative in the East African Legislative Assembly, is among observers who are concerned about the turn of events.
“If what is reported in the media is true, then it will be bad because if the political federation is to move, it has to get the blessing of all partner states,” he said.
Kidega, who in principle disagrees with the three member states moving ahead without Tanzania and Burundi’s input, said what he knows is that the federation can only happen following the formal structure of the EAC Treaty.
“The federation can only happen following the formal process as envisaged by the treaty,” Kidega said. Kidega insists that these matters must be discussed by all five partner states, and not just three.
In line with Article 123 of the EAC Treaty, the Partner States are mandated to establish a common foreign and security policy, before they agree on the formation of a political federation. The matter is first discussed by a council of ministers and then sent to the summit, which then determines whether to adopt the matter.
The deputy secretary general in charge of the Political Federation at the EAC secretariat, Charles Njoroge, told The Observer that there was a lot to be done before a federation could realized, including institutions that are not yet in place.
By press time, the Legal, Rules and Privileges committee of the East African Legislative Assembly, chaired by Uganda’s EALA representative, Dora Byamukama, had convened at Imperial Royale hotel in Kampala to consider the final draft constitution of the proposed political federation.
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