NAIROBI, August 6—Below the thin veneer of successful unity, the glue which holds the three original members of the East African Community (EAC) – Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania – together appears to be under serious threat from national political interests.
Government officials openly agree that the push for political unity of the three original states remains strong, but that mutual suspicion remains a major hindrance to achieving the ultimate political unity of the expanded EAC, even though these are never publicly discussed.
Amason Jeffa Kingi, the East African Community Minister, says while the entire region stands to benefit from the increased regional trade accruing from the political and economic unity, major challenges remained, among them, sustaining the political will.
The Minister says while major milestones have been achieved since 1999 when the new push for the revival of the collapsed EAC was set in motion, sustaining the political momentum appears to be a major challenge in safeguarding the future of the EAC.
The region is gearing for high-level talks on a new treaty, which would authorize the free movement of persons across the region, including Burundi and Rwanda.
The Free Movement of Persons Treaty, once ratified, will grant EAC nationals the right to reside in any member country in addition to dealing with other citizenship issues.
Tanzania has long been opposed to the idea of granting a freehand to foreigners, especially Kenyans, the right to operate in its territory, citing the need to consolidate her domestic service industry and arm Tanzanians with the knowledge to prosper.
David Nalo, the EAC Ministry Permanent Secretary, says even though the region faces mounting challenges moving forward, the need for political and economic unity cannot be reversed, if the region is to maintain a stronger foothold on the global economic arena.
The suspect issue of Tanzania’s continued membership of the South African Development Community (SADC) continues to linger in the minds of Dar es Salaam’s critics. Tanzania’s independent analysts see the lean towards the south as a strategy to counter Kenya’s domineering impact on its neighbour’s economy, by bringing South Africa.
Experts also point out that with the full implementation of the Customs Union, which ushered in a common taxation system of 25 percent for industrial and finished goods, 10 percent surcharge on semi-processed goods and zero tax for raw materials, Tanzania is benefiting more from Kenya’s economic prosperity and therefore a win-win scenario.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has become the first of the region’s leaders to publicly dispel misunderstandings and the disquiet over Kenya’s economic prosperity.
Assistant Minister Peter Munya says the mutual distrust amongst the parent EAC members is normal in instances where countries are pursuing political and economic objectives as witnessed with the European Union (EU).
"We cannot deal with the issue of mutual suspicions formally because these are never raised during the formal interactions amongst the various countries; we only come to hear that such a country says this and that, but they are never raised formally," Munya said.
He believes the EAC treaty allows Tanzania and other states enough room to raise issues of concern.
"The concept of regional integration is voluntary. No state is ever forced and the concept of equal sovereignty is applied," Munya points out.