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The United States of East Africa? From Community to Confederation

By September 19, 2022 November 22nd, 2022 No Comments

 

The meeting of the East African Community on April 8th, 2022, formally included the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the first time, amid renewed calls for the establishment of an East African ‘super-state’. Photograph: Paul Kagame.

 

The East African Community aims to increase ‘regional trade and peace’ in the 2022-23 financial year, as the bloc continues to take steps towards confederation. 

This declaration comes from the EAC after a decade success of under the East African Common Market, and a coordinated, multinational response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The EAC is an intergovernmental community in the style of the European Union in Africa’s east, established as a precursor to a confederation, and eventually a single federated state. 

While the concept of an East African Federation, or United States of East Africa, has existed for decades, the re-emergence of the EAC in the 2000s has put federation firmly back on the regional agenda. 

The EAC has historically included the Republics of Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and eventually South Sudan, but in April 2022 admitted the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the explicit goal of becoming a ‘super-state’. 

However, the Community will likely miss their original 2023 deadline for the ratification of a regional constitution, with local leaders grappling with problems exacerbated by the Pandemic. 

EAC Secretary General, Dr Peter Mathuki of Kenya, highlighted the Pandemic as a major challenge in implementation, saying on June 3rd the Covid-19 pandemic grossly affected the implementation of the Community’s activities, projects and programs.

The East African Federation would become one of the world’s largest states, if created. Infographic: Tom Loudon/CanvaPro.

‘National consultations for the drafting of the EAC Political Confederation Constitution have so far been held in the Republics of Burundi and Uganda, and plans are at an advanced stage to hold similar consultations in the United Republic of Tanzania, and the Republics of Rwanda, Kenya and South Sudan in the 2022/2023 Financial Year,’ his statement read. 

But private industry and national governments also maintain concerns about an East African Federation, from fears of a loss of sovereignty, to businesses’ difficulty adapting to changing jurisdictions, to a feared dependence on external aid for some regions.  

The EAC introduced a common market in 2010, and a Customs Union, in an attempt unify member nations’ economies leading to confederation. This Customs Union includes a Common External Tariff on imports from outside states, duty-free trade between EAC member states, and common customs procedures reminiscent of the EU.

However, a similar goal, the implementation of a shared regional currency, has been more difficulty for the Community, and has been delayed several times. The move towards monetary union and a single currency, the East African Shilling, has been pushed back to 2024. But the EAC has otherwise been successful in the creation of a shared tourist visa, which has been active in the community since 2014.

Dr Mathuki remains confident that unification remains possible, even in the face of missed dealines and stalling political will. 

‘The East African Community has proposed a high-level Summit set to provide an opportunity for the EAC Heads of State to take stock of the progress, challenges and opportunities in the implementation of the East African Community Common Market Protocol and provide strategic direction and impetus to accelerate implementation,’ Dr Mathuki said. 

‘The EAC will in the coming year focus on strengthening regional governance, political commitment, and inclusivity to improve peace and security in the build-up to an EAC Political Confederation. 

‘In addition, the EAC will also prioritise infrastructure development and increased participation of different stakeholders such as the private sector in the regional integration process.’

The concept of African unity is fairly popular across the continent, but ethnic and national tension continues to stifle attempts at formal unity. 

Tom Loudon

Tom Loudon

Tom (he/him) is a Meanjin/Brisbane based writer and the Editor in Chief at Glass Media. He has a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts (Creative Writing) and is currently studying Communications (Journalism) at QUT.

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