Rising number of EAC bloc members now a concern

The Democratic Republic of Congo flag is hoisted at the East African Community headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania after the country formally joined the bloc on July 11, 2022. PHOTO | EAC

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  • Speakers at a special session of the regional Assembly called for more elaborate plans before admission of new members to the bloc is made

Arusha. Voices were raised here yesterday on the increasing number of the East African Community (EAC) member states.

Speakers at a special session of the regional Assembly called for more elaborate plans before admission of new members to the bloc is made.

It was argued that the EAC in operation today was modelled on the topology of three original states; Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.

“There was no critical planning for expansion,” said Kenneth Bagamuhunda, the former EAC director general of Customs and Trade.

He told a special sitting of the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) that there should not be any haste for admitting new members.

This, he said, will enable regional leaders to avoid admitting countries that have “no or weak compatibility with EAC.” Mr Bagamuhunda, who retired last year after serving the organisation for 18 years, argued that there should be a clear mechanism for expansion.

The Arusha-based EAC currently has seven member countries; Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and DR Congo. 

Another country expected to join the bloc soon is Somalia. A verification mission has been sent there to assess the country’s readiness.

But Mr Bagamuhunda said much as the EAC Treaty has room for admission of new countries, the process should be orderly.

There should be “no rush” so as to allow for a grace period to enable the prospective member “to understand the nitty gritty of the EAC”.

He said it took Burundi and Rwanda nearly 10 years to join the bloc after participating in the EAC programmes as observers.

The two countries joined the EAC in July 2007 with Rwanda having applied for membership in 1996 and Burundi in 1999. “We did not have a clearly set roadmap for admission of new members but it was easier for Burundi and Rwanda,” he said.

The two countries (Burundi and Rwanda) were regular participants in the EAC programmes as observers. “It was a learning process for them.”  Much as he welcomed admission of new members, the former top EAC executive stressed the need for detailed negotiations before a new member is admitted.

The level of negotiations from the verification stage should be detailed and deepened “so as to have countries that would easily comply with the EAC set of things,” he added.

From a five nation bloc between 2007 to 2015, the EAC admitted new members South Sudan and the DR Congo in 2016 and 2022 respectively.

Mr Bagamuhunda said nearly six years after it became a bona fide member of the Community, South Sudan has not been fully integrated in the bloc. The country is yet to implement the Customs Union protocol “although a lot of work has been done to become compatible.”

The same applied to DR Congo although it is too early to judge its participation in the EAC activities having joined the bloc less than a year ago. The special sitting of Eala doubled as an induction for new members of the 5th Assembly which was inaugurated in December last year.

An array of consultants, who included former executives of the Community, made their presentations on the ‘way forward’ for the regional organisation.

Mr Phillip Wambugu, the former director of Planning and Infrastructure, reiterated a call for amendment of the EAC Treaty in the wake of admission of new members.

“Today we have seven members and more are applying to join. There is a need to review some aspects of the Treaty,” he said.

Amendments should be made on categories of entry of new members, decision making, sanctions and ratification of legal instruments.

Others should focus on strengthening the organs and institutions of the Community, among others, he pointed out.