Originally published on 2012/02/06

A typ­ic­ally over­looked con­sequence of the EU’s fall from global grace due to its fin­an­cial crisis is the debate it has pre­cip­it­ated at the highest polit­ical levels of East Africa. Since its most recent incep­tion in 1996, the East African Com­munity (EAC)-an envi­sioned polit­ical and fiscal union of Kenya, Tan­zania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi- has looked to the European Union as a role model for regional integ­ra­tion, the embod­i­ment of all it aspires to achieve. How­ever, with the recent Euro Zone crisis and polit­ical frac­tur­ing within the EU, dis­con­tent has begun to cir­cu­late amongst the East African coun­tries involved; should they heed the warn­ing of the European Union and aban­don their endeav­our before it’s too late?

Polit­ical union- fast track to prosper­ity?

Some pro­ponents of the EAC claim a single regional cur­rency can work once they avoid the major pit­fall that is cur­rently cre­at­ing a head­ache in Europe- the cre­ation of a single cur­rency without uni­fied integ­ra­tion of fiscal policy and legis­la­tion. While this undoubtedly was a major con­trib­ut­ing factor to the Euro debt crisis, it is disin­genu­ous in the extreme to claim this is the only obstacle the EAC needs to over­come. The real­ity in East Africa couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent from life in Europe; East Africa is an under­developed region with a largely uneducated pop­u­la­tion. The region is prone to sporadic out­bursts of con­flict and polit­ical viol­ence and its lead­ers have decidedly auto­cratic tend­en­cies – Musev­eni of Uganda and Kagame of Rwanda in par­tic­u­lar. The gov­ern­ments in ques­tion claim that integ­ra­tion will boost all their eco­nom­ies. But in real­ity, their respect­ive eco­nom­ies would be bet­ter served by polit­ical sta­bil­ity, improved infra­struc­ture and uni­ver­sal edu­ca­tion.

What’s in it for Europe?

So why is the EU assist­ing in this half-hearted endeav­our? Because of eco­nom­ics, oil and ter­ror­ism. As undeveloped as it may be, there is no doubt that the region is exper­i­en­cing growth, with coun­tries in East Africa report­ing a 5.4% growth rate per annum (Africa Report) in the last ten years. The region is also rich in nat­ural resources, with min­er­als abund­ant and oil recently found in Uganda; coin­cid­ent­ally, a Brit­ish com­pany holds the rights for oil explor­a­tion and extrac­tion in the coun­try.

The main motiv­a­tion in the EU back­ing the cre­ation of the EAC is most likely fear of ter­ror­ism. The Horn and East Africa are the latest, most dan­ger­ous flash­points for Islamic extrem­ism and other forms of ter­ror­ism. Sudan was host­ing Islamic fun­da­ment­al­ist ter­ror­ists as far back as the ‘80s when Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts enjoyed the hos­pit­al­ity of Khar­toum; Somalia, dev­ast­ated by dec­ades of fam­ine and war, has long been a breed­ing ground for ter­ror­ists with the hard-line Islamic group Al-Shabaab gain­ing massive ground in recent years, becom­ing so bold as to launch mil­it­ary incur­sions into neigh­bour­ing coun­tries such as Kenya and kid­nap­ping west­ern­ers. Old-fashioned pir­acy is also wide­spread in the region. The West does not want to inter­vene mil­it­ar­ily, fol­low­ing the dis­astrous US peace­keep­ing mis­sion in Somalia in ’92, but are quite happy to sup­port proxy wars; Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia all have troops fight­ing in Somalia, trained and equipped by the US, Ger­many and other EU coun­tries. The EU would hope that an inter-country alli­ance in the region, strong or oth­er­wise, would provide some buf­fer to the rapid growth of terrorism.

Is the EU in a pos­i­tion to be giv­ing advice?

The EU has been advising and assist­ing EAC lead­ers on the pro­cess of form­ing a union, although notice­ably less so since the fin­an­cial crisis took hold. Des­pite the ser­i­ous reser­va­tions of many, the EAC is press­ing ahead with its first step, a mon­et­ary union. A fact- find­ing mis­sion was sent to Brus­sels earlier this month to exam­ine how best to emu­late the com­mon cur­rency. Polit­ical insiders claim that the EAC is not solely influ­enced by the EU but has also been encour­aged in their endeav­our from wit­ness­ing the eco­nomic growth of the four­teen West and Cent­ral African nations which share a com­mon cur­rency. The EAC does wish to cre­ate a more integ­rated com­munity how­ever, includ­ing cus­toms and legal uni­form­ity and for this it is still look­ing to the European example.

Real­ity sets in

The pos­sib­il­ity of such a polit­ical union remains a dis­tant real­ity how­ever, espe­cially fol­low­ing the disin­genu­ous remarks made recently by Ugandan Pres­id­ent Yoweri Musev­eni about the inclu­sion of South Sudan and the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo in the EAC.  Newly inde­pend­ent South Sudan has yet to prove it can func­tion as a state and the DRC is one of the ulti­mate examples of a ‘failed state’; if Musev­eni was hop­ing to silence crit­ics with his remark, he simply provided them with another reason as to why the EAC won’t work.

How­ever, the threat of ter­ror­ism and the prom­ise of new, resource rich eco­nom­ies are prompt­ing the EU to provide encour­age­ment and sup­port. It is clear that East African lead­ers intend to pur­sue this pro­ject and will con­tinue to watch events in the EU closely, fol­low­ing the example, and heed­ing the warn­ings of Europe.

Tag Words: European Union; East African Com­munity; Horn of Africa; devel­op­ment; terrorism.

Links:

UN Horn of Africa could become new launch pad for global terrorism

East African Com­munity Offi­cial Website

EU Coun­cil con­clu­sion on Horn of Africa

The Africa Report  Africa: Why Fran­co­phones are lag­ging behind Anglophones

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