As the dust settles on the Ugandan elections with Yoweri Museveni having been declared as President for a fifth term by the country’s electoral commission, focus now shifts to what he will do for his country, but equally important, what sort of influence he will bring to bear on the EAC region as the ‘Senior-most,’ of the five EAC presidents; this as the bloc begins implementing the monetary union, and readies for a political federation. In a radio interview during the campaigns, Museveni is reported to have said that "I am here (for another term) to see whether we can help you get the East African Federation so that we have a critical mass of strength that can guarantee your future...The other time, we almost succeeded in forming the East African Federation, Mzee Moi was committed, Mzee Kibaki was committed, Uhuru is committed… This is the number one target that we should aim at." Clearly, he is a man on a mission.
This interview came shortly after news photos appeared with Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto accompanying Museveni on the campaign sending many tongues wa
gging as to its significance: Was it just a coincidence in the spirit of good neighborliness or did it carry political undertones of a shared political vision among the two close neighbors? Some pundits saw the gesture not just as an endorsement by Kenya’s political establishment of continued Museveni presidency but even as a deference of sorts to him as their ‘’Senior Elder’ deserving of a bigger role in the mould of President of a potential EAC Political Federation.
While this thinking may not be too far-fetched, what is perhaps more important is to appreciate that the EAC Treaty has as its ultimate milestone the attainment of a Political Federation (PF). The questions that arise then are; what would such a federation look like and are the residents of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda Tanzania and Uganda ready for such an arrangement? Are the individual States ready and willing to cede their national sovereignty and governance to one Titular Federal Head overseeing issues of security, economy and other aspects that would concern a diverse 150 million people with different languages and cultures?
According to the 1999 Treaty establishing the new EAC, the region envisaged a political federation within a decade. The phased implementation proposed a 2017 due date assuming that the other milestones of a Customs Union, a Common Market and Monetary Union would all be effectively in place by then. In theory, the EAC political federation (structure) would have a Federal government or executive authority overseeing the affairs of the region. A successful example that has offered lessons for EAC’s ambitions is the European Union.
The 2004 so-called ‘’Wako Report’’ proposed that the Head of State of the EAC Federation would either be ‘’One of the Heads of State of the Partner States, in which case, it would be rotational Head of State of the Federation say for each year or ‘’Elected by the National Parliaments plus the East African Legislative Assembly.’’ The fact that planned timelines have delayed seem to point to the difficulty of having all the member countries at different stages of growth and democratization processes reading from the same integration script.
Significantly though, considerable work has been done under the Customs Union and now with the Common Market underway, more benefits are expected. However, although discussions for a monetary Union are ongoing, achieving a political federation may take longer. At a regional Summit in Kigali last year, under the Northern Corridor’s ‘’coalition of the willing’’ Uganda led Kenya and Rwanda in pushing for fast-tracking of the Political Federation with Museveni reportedly insisting that ‘’even if the economic integration were successful, there were certain issues that could only be addressed under a political federation.’’ Clearly the urgency is on, but Tanzania has seemed to stagger at the high speed.
As Museveni begins a fifth term and President Magufuli settles in his first, what may be required at this juncture is to make the benefits from regional integration so apparent to the people that as the Wako Report on ‘Fast-tracking Political Federation’ pointed out, political federation will become demand-driven by the EAC residents themselves. Such a bottom -up approach to regional integration is what is required to make the process and all its institutions sustainable and perhaps even make Yoweri Museveni desirable and accepted as our first EAC President when the time comes.