East African Community: The Past Haunts the Present Integration Process
This was clearly evident during the negotiations leading to the signing of the East African Community Treaty, the ushering in and implementation of the Customs Union, the Common Market, among other projects.
For example, in July 30 1999 the Treaty was postponed as Tanzania disagreed over trade provisions especially concerning the proposed zero tariffs trade regime and free movement of factors of production.
Tanzania was opposed to a zero tariff regime arguing it will be unfair to treat Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda equally as if they were at the same level of economic development.
It was equally opposed to free movement of factors of production especially labour and right of establishment arguing if these were free Kenyans could flock into Tanzania in search of land and job opportunities that Tanzanians themselves need.
Tanzania wanted a common understanding that the three countries were at various levels of economic development and should not be treated uniformly especially when it came to application of tariffs.
Tanzania was in favour of a ‘step by step’ approach to integration. Uganda stood with Tanzania on this position while Kenya preferred a delay until more of contentious details had been agreed upon.
Tanzania wanted the issue of trade imbalances recognized in the Treaty and mechanisms to correct it. Kenya’s perceived dominance in the EAC trade has been a sticking issue for a long-time.
Ideologically, the three countries were very different. However, Kenya adopted capitalism; Tanzania adopted socialism, while Uganda was also going leftist.
Kenya which feared socialist regimes developing in the region co-operated with Uganda to check the growing Tanzania-Uganda socialist ideological axis, and ensure her hegemony in the region.
Amin’s coup of 1971 broke the Tanzania-Uganda axis as Tanzania refused to recognize Amin and gave political asylum to Dr. Milton Obote.
On the other hand, Tanzania saw intra-regional trade as benefiting the foreign investors in Kenya who had captured Ugandan and Tanzanian markets. This led to the closure of Kenya-Tanzania border and a lot of political acrimony in the relations of the two.
Uneven levels of development among the three states were equally blamed for the collapse of the East African Community. Controversy over gains from co-operation ruined any efforts to correct the imbalance.
Political trends in Uganda especially after the Idi Amin Coup of 1971 shattered the hopes of integration in the region. While Kenya did not do without Uganda’s market, Tanzania did not recognize Amin’s government.
Another problem that led to the collapse of the EAC in 1977 was the lack of political will after independence as the new East African leaders got busy with consolidating power.
Again, Uganda and Tanzania viewed EAC as a zero-sum game or even a negative-sum game given the dominant position held by Kenya. So, they may have wished the EAC to collapse than proceed on smoothly.
The personal differences between Amin and Julius Kambarage Nyerere heightened, and this made decision-making in the EAC Authority hard as the authority could not meet.
The EAC (1967-1977) was dissolved in 1977 after being in operation for only ten years. However, it was revived in the early 1990s during increasing economic marginalization in the international system.
The same tendencies are reflected in the current EAC where Kenya dominates regional trade as opposed to Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi.
We need to appreciate that history helps us to understand the present situation and enables us to predict the future. On that note, it is evident that the history of East Africa integration has been problematic.
We can therefore say without fear or contradiction that regional integration in East Africa has been dogged by the problem of benefit distribution given the structure of the economies that are basically similar and non-complimentary.
It is also acknowledged fact that regional integration is a political process much as its benefits are economic. Therefore, the politics of integration rotates around benefits distribution.
Whether we talk of cautious implementation of the Customs Union by 2005, the Common Market Protocol by 2010, the Monetary Union by 2012 and the Political Federation of East Africa by 2015, success story will not be realized just like that.
Therefore, unless an equitable format of addressing economic imbalance emanating from unequal distribution of regional benefits is found in the five member states, East Africa Federation as one political entity driving the socio-economic agenda of the region from the Arusha Secretariat and the five capital cities in the region will remain a dream.