A Chinese epigram states thus: “A journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step”. - Lao Tzu
Within the scaffold of this oriental truism, one would contentedly feel quite safe to assert that the formation and expansion of the new East African Community (EAC) bloc, which has lately accommodated the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the western part of the continent in its fold, manifestly denotes an epic milestone in the geopolitical character of the region and so, the EAC should precipitously move forward to allot significant space or ample room and leave its door ajar to accommodate more other East African countries in the region. Such realignment could plainly be an expedient measure for expanding the magnitude and operational precinct of a larger single market for the EAC. It certainly goes without saying that it has persistently been the overwhelmingly treacherous mindset and an embedded conceptualization of the erstwhile colonial powers to safeguard their insatiable interests at any price tag by ensuring that the entire African continent and its people settle not only right down the bottom of the cliff, but must ultimately be pushed over the edge of an abyss.
Incontestably, the universal expectation is that, admitting more countries into the EA fold as wide afield as conceivable could feasibly be the trend to reconnoitre. Moreover, such broadening of the EAC’s geographic dimensions in my opinion should cover a wide expanse to accommodate countries that may include Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, if these nations are so keen and inclined to pick up membership in this political federation. Sadly, the EA may need to be rather circumspect, as the scenario could plainly be knotty to include Djibouti in the horn of Africa as a member of the community, inasmuch as this country hosts military bases of eight foreign nations that are profoundly obsessed with an assortment of geo-strategic and other interests. Those countries include: The United States of America; the United Kingdom; France; Germany; Italy; Spain; China and Saudi Arabia. Hence, in this given setting, an enterprising federation like the EAC should distance itself from accommodating those overshadowing extraterritorial jurisdictions which would likely meddle in the affairs of the EA bloc, and that would apparently call into question the viability or the sovereign existence of the EA federation. Moreover, a well-managed EAC would herald and perhaps represent a microcosm of a full-fledged future Africa’s continental unification during our life time. Courtesy of the Afrocentric and nationalistic vision of the founding fathers and pioneers of Africa’s liberation struggles in the 1960s that facilitated the accomplishment of political independence for their people on the continent.
Arguably, observed from a sound gradient, the EA bloc could distinctively secure robust economic and political gains and equally attract massive foreign investments as there would likely be in place a comprehensive pacific environment and there would correspondingly be interdependence within the community which entails the creation of collective security and a mechanism for defence architecture.
A fully integrated EAC would equally ensure broader intra-bloc trade and a synchronization of a wider single market with fabulous returns, as there would exist an overall absence of tariffs which are often foisted by governments as a protectionist strategy, albeit economists regularly attempt to dissuade the application of tariffs in favour of free trade, since tariffs lead to price inefficiencies and costs to consumers.
A thriving EAC should perhaps lessen the inflow of foreign aid which is often attached to wanton political strings, pressure and hidden agenda of the giving country. Foreign aid is indisputably an abysmal conception for Africa. The salient argument against Foreign Aid is that, it increases dependence and diminishes the tendency and fortitude of self-reliance. Above all, it increases dependency and there is equally a noteworthy risk of corruption due to misallocation of resources.
The EA community needs a level playing field to trade with the rest of the international community, primarily, linking up with regional economic blocs such as the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
I understand there is an apparent intricate overlap in memberships of these countries, but this could be sorted out in a while. However, the bottom line is to stimulate and enhance a wide-ranging free trade area, prior to contemplating about the mechanics of operationalising the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Visibly, there are other substantially myriad benefits to derive from an accomplished EAC. Vitally, the EAC is well located and poised to fix all political upheavals in the countries under its roof, in view of the fact that the bloc could dedicate colossal political resources and fortitude towards mitigating conflicts in member states, whether in the Republic of South Sudan; the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Somalia, given the glaring absence of tranquillity and the intensity of the rolling violence in those countries. The community possesses the leverage to decisively end the turmoil in my country of South Sudan more resolutely than the non-committal Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) which is somewhat politicised for plainly ingrained self-regarding intentions while seemingly lacking the wherewithal and clout to get the incompatible parties in South Sudan to a negotiation table. It is widely anticipated that the EAC could opt for some sort of Modus Vivendi and design a germane blueprint to mitigate or possibly eliminate the imbroglio and the accompanying bloodletting in South Sudan by attempting to restore peace and sanity in this country. Today, the persistent conflict in the country has displaced an estimated 4 million people from their homes. As seen by the UNHCR, 2.5 million, out of the 4 million displaced South Sudanese have become refugees in neighbouring countries, including Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia, while 1.5 million are Internal Displaced People (IDP) inside their country in Camps under the protection of the United Nations soldiers – The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) which is a peacekeeping mission the country. Hence, the EAC should be able to do something to ebb the mayhem that afflicts its member state.
In a parallel endeavour destined to patch-up the turbulence in the country, it is essential to recognise the crucial role of the African Union (AU) alongside other Parties such as the Saint Egidio of Rome, Italy which currently attempts to build up a rapprochement between the government of South Sudan and the key opposition Movement, the National Salvation Front (NAS) led by General Thomas Cirilo. The NAS as a nationalistic South Sudanese movement passionately maintains a penchant for stability, tranquillity and amity in the terminally volatile and haemorrhaging young nation.
Finally, at this juncture, I must state that the long experienced and dexterous President of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni who lucidly understands the origin of the South Sudan’s divergences of the political actors in the country is pivotally located to advise the EAC as to how the conflict could be resolved amicably. Given this Setting, the EAC could commendably salvage not only South Sudan from the brink of catastrophe, but also other politically flustered states as well within the latitude of the alliance’s system.
By Peter Lokarlo Ngrimwa, PhD
Former Lecturer, Graduate School of Business and Law (GSBL), RMIT University,