East African Community expansion: What is the endgame?

What you need to know:

  • While there is no ‘perfect’ partner state, the EAC should make its priorities clear.

The East African Community (EAC) expanded yet again by admitting Somalia as its newest member in Arusha, making it a community of eight countries.

Each time the EAC has expanded, there have been questions about the new members.

Of the many regional groupings in Africa, the EAC, while not leading in intra trade volumes compared to other regional groupings, it still holds an appeal to new members.

What is the endgame to this constant expansion?

When the EAC expanded for the first time by admitting Rwanda and Burundi in 2009, the questions raised ranged from the mundane like them driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road to issues of security and political stability.

Some of these issues came to pass while others have come to be part of the community.

Then South Sudan joined. Wracked by internal strife and a bloody civil war, it was a surprise that it ‘passed’ the test to be part of the EAC.

The country has not stabilized, and the potential for its EAC membership has not been realized at a time when they have assumed the leadership of the regional bloc.

Its membership owed much to the influence of Kenya and Uganda; after all, they had never paid their dues to the community until this year.

There was the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) next. It has faced many security challenges where the central government in Kinshasa has never been fully in control of its vast territory.

Almost all its neighbours had been heavily involved in its domestic affairs ranging from taking part in its civil wars to attempting to find a lasting solution to these security challenges.

DRC’s membership was seen as opening up the region to the other side of the continent.

It was also thought that by being part of the EAC, the likelihood of another full blown war between the constantly hemorrhaging giant and some of its neighbours.

This was part of the lessons learnt from the collapse of the first EAC. Like South Sudan before it, its membership has not yielded the expected outcomes so far.

Somalia, like the last two members of the EAC, has serious security challenges which make it difficult to see how partner states will reap the fruits of its membership despite having the longest coastline in Africa.

It is a country where the government in Mogadishu has not been fully in charge for more than quarter of a century.

Of course, there are many EAC partner states that have no full control of their political territories.

However, unlike Somalia, they have central authorities which can claim legitimacy within and beyond their political borders.

The admissions of the last three members of the EAC were rushed compared to when Rwanda and Burundi were admitted.

If the idea was that these troubled countries will be sorted out by being part of the EAC, then the criteria for admitting new members should be changed.

Furthermore, despite having some of the battle-hardened militaries on the continent, this has not led to sorting some of the major security challenges in the region.

The EAC has been toothless in intervening militarily in some countries like Burundi, and in cases where there has been an intervention as is the case in the DRC; things have failed to go according to script.

Tensions have persisted, and in some cases worsening the conditions on the ground.

Chances are that these questionable admissions have more to do with the EAC partner states than the new members.

Not a single country can claim to be more democratic than the other. Not a single partner state can claim to respect human rights than the other. Not any of the partner states can claim to have done away with the many challenges to full integration than the others.

In many ways, EAC partner states are deeply involved in the affairs of the new partner states.

In this regard, can this constant expansion deliver the political union or is it about strengthening regional economy?

While there is no ‘perfect’ partner state, the EAC should make its priorities clear.

This constant expansion does little to materialize any form of a political union.