Towards an East African Federation: Realising Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s vision

On April 28, 2020, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni  addressed the nation, albeit on the country’s  response to COVID-19, he remarked on the work of the late Tanzanian President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, in forging the building blocks for East African Federation and the his current role in galvanising the East African Community towards achieving this vision.
The desire to achieve regional integration on the African subcontinent is rooted in the post-colonial struggle for political and economicindependence buttressed by a belief that regional cooperation is vital to tackling development challenges that cannot be solved at a national level and strengthens the bargaining power of developing African nations when negotiating with their developed Western counterparts.
Thus, regional integration has long been high on the agenda of African countries, captured in the great dream of a United States of Africa,as articulated by pan-Africanists such asJulius Nyerere,Kwame Nkrumah, Leopold Sedar Senghor,Patrice Lumumba and Muammar Gaddafi.
These visionaries saw Africa’s future through a global perspective and envisaged a united and self-sufficient Africa as the ultimate objective.The regional integration in East Africa is a step towards that vision.
The East African Community was formed in 1967. However, 10 years later, the community broke down over political and ideological differences, fuelled by protectionism and nationalistic tendencies.
One can only wonder where East Africa would be today, perhaps in the same breath as India, had the Community succeed.
Nonetheless,at the dawn of this century, efforts to revive the Community started that eventually led to the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community, which entered into force on 7 July 2000 following its ratification by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, with Rwanda and Burundi joining in 2007.
This was followed by a Customs Union in 2005, although still includes many exceptions and is thus not fully implemented and, in 2010, the East African Community established its own common market for goods, labour and capital within the region.
Regional integration is characterised by three main factors; (i) geographic scope; relating to the number of countries involvedin the arrangement; (ii) the substantive coverage; that is, the sector oractivity covered by the arrangement (for example, trade and investment,macroeconomic-policies, infrastructure, agriculture, food security, peaceand security, tourism and industry); (iii) the depth of integration; that is,the degree of sovereignty a country is willing to surrender.
On the latter, a Political Federation is the ultimate goal, the fourth stepafter the Customs Union, Common Market and Monetary Union.
 It isprovided for under Article 5(2) of the Treaty for the Establishment of theEast African Community and founded on three pillars: common foreign and security policies,good governance and effective implementation of the prior stages ofregional integration.
To achieve a full federation, a common constitution is needed. As a result, an18-member Committee of Experts, chaired by Justice Dr. Benjamin Odoki, the Chief Justice of  Uganda, was established to conduct research, consultations and eventually draft the East African political confederation constitution.
What does it mean in constitutional terms?
A confederation would be pursued initially, so as to allow the Member States to harmonise their systems before surrendering to a federation. The difference is that membership of a confederation is voluntary.
It has to be remembered that the architects of the East African Community treaty put the private sector and the civil society at the centre region’s integration plans.
 Thusthe EAC citizens will hold a referendum over the proposed constitution before coming into force.If the constitution is adopted, Member mStates will begin ceding power to the confederation.
The advantage so far is that the East African Community countries are geographically linked and share to a certain degree a common language and culture. This has helped to support the speed of integration from the launch of the East African Passport to the adoption of the East African flag and anthem.
Above all, there is increased political stability in the region: the Lord’s Resistance Army has been driven out of Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi’s security situation has also stabilised. Overall, this march towards regional integration is guided by a belief that the East African Community’s economic ambitions are apparent from the vast natural resources onthe continent but disjointed by the absence of a system governance,both political and economic, to realise them.
It also guided the growing support on the African subcontinent for inclusive growth and sustainable development, as reflected in the African Continental Free Trade Area.
 Indeed, East Africa is undergoing a paradigm shift in political and economic governance, facilitated by the levels of technology which has increasedconsiderably across the region, and most recently, COVID-19, which has exposed the perils of over-reliance on international partners, while boosting the market for local products and strengthening the case for deepening regional integration and cooperation.

Chrispas Nyombi is a Reader (Associate Professor) in International Commercial Law and Director of Research in Law at Canterbury Christ Church University. He is part of a Panel appointed by the General Assembly of IGAD tasked with creating an International Arbitration and Mediation Centre in Djibouti.