Since November 19, senior government officials drawn from the five partner states have been meeting in Nairobi to deliberate on various issues related to the integration. EAC Minister Musa Sirma said that the war-torn countries qualify on grounds of sharing borders with Kenya, but they score low on their human rights records and political stability.
“We tasked a verification team which went to the countries to evaluate if they fit the criteria, and they will present the report today (Monday) to the council and later give recommendations to the Heads of State,” he said.
He explained that the team held several meetings with the governments of South Sudan and Somalia officials, including ministers, deputy ministers, undersecretaries, the national legislative assembly, the Judiciary and civil society and private sector representatives.
“In considering South Sudan’s application, it may be noted that out of the country’s total landmass of 660,000 square kilometres, 35 percent is under forest cover while only four percent of the land is utilised for agricultural activities despite the vast expanse of arable land,” he said.
He noted that the agricultural activities are mainly subsistence small-holdings with a few varieties of crops and the livestock population is estimated to be between 10-15 million with a similar number of sheep and goats.
“There are three options for the prospective countries. One is to be admitted as full members; the second is to be admitted as an associate member; and thirdly is to be admitted as an observer,” he explained.
South Sudan submitted its bid late last year while Somalia submitted its application in February this year and Sirma emphasised that they there’s a good chance they’ll reject the two countries although they need more nations to join the EAC in order to foster competition, gain access to wider markets through trade, allow for larger and diversified investments and production, provide socioeconomic and political stability as well as bargaining power for the member countries.
“The most unlikely thing to happen is admission, but other options are possible,” he revealed.
“You must understand that South Sudan is a young country. They do meet the criteria of being a neighbour, but it’s just the lack of economic activities and man power, but all other avenues are possible,” he added.
Sirma explained that the verification committee was composed of three experts from each partner state and three experts from the Secretariat and they were dispatched to undertake the verification of the application of South Sudan and Somalia to join the EAC.
“Enlarging the country membership of the East African Community to include the Republic of Somalia and South Sudan may contribute to regional peace, security, stability and development, but the matter calls for proper timing and wider consultations with other international players involved, especially those in the Somali peace initiatives,” he explained.
He acknowledged that the council was cognisant of the transitional nature of governance in the Republic of adding that, “the council also considered the fact that there are ongoing pacification efforts, including the Kampala Accord regarding regional political peace initiative and the African Union initiative, such as the involvement of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).”
The East African Community comprises Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda which entered a common market in 2010 and Sirma revealed that they are still working to form a monetary union by the end of the year, before ultimately forming a political federation.
“Most experts have warned that the region’s single currency could crumble due to low intra-regional trade, administrative barriers and failure to implement previous stages of integration,” he said.
“On November 28, the presidents will approve new proposals on setting up a single customs territory and they will also endorse a new common external tariff structure and rules of origin and give a nod to new powers to extend the jurisdiction of the East African Court of Justice,” he added.
The presidents are due to spend their first day in Kenya officially launching the Arusha-Namanga-Athi River Road.