By Marco Jowell

Director of Research, GLCSS


The nations of East Africa have proposed an ambitious scheme for fast tracking economic integration leading to a single political East African Federation (EAF). However, the EAF faces significant obstacles to integration. 


The East African Community, which is modeled on the European Union, includes Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania with Rwanda and Burundi set to join on 30th November this year. After six years of talks the community established a Customs Union last year, increasing hopes of achieving a common market, common currency and eventually a political federation under a single president.


The proposed federation not only includes economic integration of a common market with zero tariffs and the free movement of persons with ultimately an East African Passport which is in circulation but yet to be recognized internationally.


According to EAF sources the political federation will be completed by 2013. It is expected that by January 2010 a federation will be officially launched. The period between 2010 and 2012 is a consolidation phase in preparation for elections of the president and federal parliament.


The Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies (GLCSS) recognizes that four obstacles stand in the way of the proposed fast tracking of an economic and political integration.


Four Obstacles

  • Lack of political will and issues of sovereignty
  • Economic differences
  • Social differences
  • Membership in other regional unions


Political Factors

Lack of political will is a problem for most supranational organizations not just the EAF. From the United Nations to the EU, states have consistently put their own interests as a priority, often at the detriment of the collective organization. The original East African Union was no different. Its tumultuous history was plagued by national and political differences leading to its dissolution in 1977.


With the reestablishment of the EAF on 7 July 2000 there are still issues about sovereignty. The three East African giants have different views on how the EAF should proceed.


Uganda, specifically President Museveni, is spearheading the campaign for full political integration. In a speech quoted in The New Vision, Museveni explained the need to politically merge the people of East Africa.


“In addition to the economic merger, which we have partially achieved, we must fast track the political federation process so that we become one country by 2010 and diligently implement the intervening phases in the process prior to that date.”


Critics of Museveni point to two factors which seemingly undermine the Ugandan President’s integrity.


First, there is the problem of northern Uganda and the twenty year civil war with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). However with a peace process and negotiations underway in Juba at the moment Museveni may have resolved this controversial issue.


Second, the notion of a single President of the EAC is highly contentious. Supposedly the first president will be decided by whoever has been in office the longest from the East African states. Museveni fits this criterion and undoubtedly it is of great concern to the region.


Kenya on the other hand is split into two opinions. Nairobi is highly supportive of increased economic integration.  The Kenyan ambassador to Rwanda, Alex Ketter, in an interview with GLCSS, was very optimistic for efforts to increase regional economic integration. However on the question of political integration he was dubious. 


A regional diplomat concurred with this saying that the Kenyans were extremely cautious about political integration and added that to fast track a political federation between fragmented societies was unfeasible. Rather a slow and progressive method of integration based on the European Union was a more applicable model, since after fifty years there is still no coherent political federation in Europe. 


However, the three EAC heads of state remain optimistic that a political federation will take place. According to Beatrice Kiraso, the EA Deputy Secretary-General in charge of fast tracking the EAF said the present political leaders were undoubtedly determined to develop the EAF and develop safeguard mechanisms. 


Economic Factors:


There are sharp differences in the level of economic development between the EA states. Kenya is viewed as the most economically advanced compared to the rest of the East African states.

According to the provisions of the customs union, each country is required to restrict imports from out side the union, which could affect member state’s infant industries producing similar products. Kenya, for its part, is obliged to eliminate trade restrictions on goods exported by Uganda and Tanzania in a period not less than five years and in contrast, the two are permitted to impose tariffs on Kenyan goods for the first five years of the agreement after which the restrictions will be abolished.
However, each member country has its own interpretation of the customs union. Regional analysts fear that this could threaten the success of the new experiment, since it was one of the primary reasons for the collapse of the original EAC in 1977.
According to the World Bank Basic Indicators of Human Developments, 2006, Kenya’s GDP at market price in 2005 was estimated at US $1.9 billion while Tanzania and Uganda stood at US$ 1.2 billion and US$ 8475 million respectively. Rwanda and Burundi had US$ 209 million and US$ 799 million respectively.


In terms of GDP per capita, Kenya leads in the region with US$ 1586, followed by Uganda with US$ 1088, Rwanda with US$ 893, Tanzania with US$ 732 and Burundi with US$ 507 (World Health Organization figures).


The World Trade Organization puts East Africa’s sustained annual growth between 1996 and 2005 as follows; Ugandan economy averaged 6.1 percent annual growth, while Kenya grew by 2.8 percent, Tanzania by 5.4 percent and Rwanda 7.5 percent.

This indicates sharp differences in the level of development between EA states. The proposed political fast tracking will advantage some while disadvantaging others. With the sudden free trade zone the economically superior Kenya could find the new prices for its East African market rather less profitable. This could also suggest why East African states are trying to get spread their influence into neighboring states.


Kenya is currently gaining influence in the Horn of Africa and South Sudan. There is speculation that Nairobi’s continued peace initiatives in the Horn of Africa could be a move to secure alternative markets for its products which now face restrictions and competition with Ugandan and Tanzanian goods.


In a similar move, Tanzania identifies itself with South African countries such as Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. It withdrew from the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) in favor of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2000.


Uganda on its part enjoys a good relationship with its Central African neighbors, Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where it has secured markets for its manufactured goods. Therefore, the issue of who benefits or who loses most amongst the EA states could be another challenge to the federation.



Social Issues

Social issues concern the different levels in education and the various language barriers.


This is a hindrance to competition between citizens of the EA states and the political federation could work against some sections of society.


However, Ketter dismissed this view saying that mechanisms will be put in place to protect rights of each state’s citizens, and this might mitigate educational disparities. According to UNESCO Institute of statistics between 1991-2004, there are significant differences in the levels of education between the EA states with Kenya leading the region.


By 2004, Kenyan primary school enrolment was at 77 percent and 76 percent girls and boys respectively. Out of these, 92 percent complete primary education. Also 40 percent of boys and girls are enrolled in secondary education. However, only three percent of the population of tertiary age is enrolled in tertiary education. Also Kenya spends 29.2 percent of its annual budget on education. The overall impression of education is good in comparison to other Sub-Saharan countries.


Uganda’s primary enrolment is at 67 and 63 percent boys and girls respectively, of which only 57 percent complete primary education. Secondary school enrolment stood at 14 and 16 percent girls and boys respectively. Tertiary enrolment is also at three percent. It is estimated that the government spends 18.3 percent of its annual budget on education.


Primary school enrolment in Tanzania is at 85 and 87 percent girls and boys respectively. Out of these, 57 percent complete full primary education.  Secondary education enrolment is at 26 and 21 percent boys and girls respectively. Tertiary enrolment is at one percent.


In Rwanda primary school enrolment is at 75 and 72 percent of girls and boys respectively. Only 37 percent complete full primary education.  Secondary enrolment stands at 26 and 21 percent boys and girls respectively. Tertiary enrolment is at three percent. 

The trend in Burundi is that primary education enrolment is only 54 and 60 percent girls and boys respectively. Among them only 33 percent complete primary education. Secondary education enrolment is at 26 and 21 percent of boys and girls respectively. Tertiary education enrolment is at two percent. The government spends only 13 percent of its annual budget on education.
The disparity in education between the nations is undoubtedly a problem for future integration. It seems that a highly educated population with the added feature of free movement of persons will be able to exploit the federation to the advantage of a state’s elite and possibly stifle local entrepreneurs.
Adding to this is the problem of language. English will be the official language for EAF business. For the former British colonies this poses no problem except perhaps Uganda which is endowed with a multitude of languages on a regional basis. For Rwanda and Burundi, it is another matter. Rwanda is steadily making the transition to a more bilingual nation; however, the same cannot be said for Burundi, which in the words of the Rwandese Director of Bilateral and Multilateral Affairs, James Ngango, “Burundi’s language is French but they will learn”. Adoption of English as the language of business will undoubtedly disadvantage Burundi leaving it behind while others progress.
Regional Union Membership
EAC states belong to several regional groupings such as SADC and COMESA. This could mean that they will have to agree to belong to one regional grouping or withdraw from all of them in favor of EAC due to a conflict of interest. This implies another hurdle given the economic and political benefits each country derives from these other organizations.


Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda are all members of COMESA while Tanzania opted for SADC which is highly beneficial for the East African nation. Historically, Tanzania is far more connected with its Southern African neighbors than it is with Kenya and the other EAC members.


For full political integration, regional interests must be addressed. A fully cooperative inter-regional system is not so far fetched said Ngango. He added that amendments have been proposed in the EAC to allow for membership of more than one regional bloc. He also said that the ultimate goal was a fully integrated African Economic Community, a continent wide economic union advocated in the Abuja treaty of 1991; therefore, these smaller groups may not be a serious issue.


GLCSS believes that if these four obstacles are addressed in a pragmatic and mutually beneficial manner the future of the EAF could be successful. The states involved must have clear aims, non-grandiose ambitions and a dedication to strengthening their relationships in forging an economic federation.

William Church is director of the Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank with offices in Central and East Africa. You may contact Marco Jowell at GLCSS trains African journalists, offers an on-site internship to foreign African studies students, and manages an exchange program with journalists from the United Kingdom, the United States and Europe.

Be Sociable, Share!