A week ago, the head of states of the East African Community (EAC) came together for a summit in Arusha, Tanzania. The main issue on the agenda was the establishment of a monetary union that ultimately will be necessary to achieve a federation among the five member states (see my article). However, one of the most pressing issues was not addressed as “The East African” pointed out: the future membership of countries waiting in line to become part of the most dynamic regional organization in sub-Saharan Africa.
Since the re-introduction of the EAC with Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in 2000, two new members have joined in 2007: Burundi and Rwanda. These five member states have increasingly strong bonds, only Burundi is an outlier because it is still very much an isolated country, despite some positive changes recently. Today, also some other countries in the region are waiting to join the EAC, namely Somalia and South Sudan. Quite obviously, it is South Sudan which is most likely going to join while Somalia still has a very long way to go despite recent improvements during the past year or so. And yet, when the bid of South Sudan was discussed in November 2012, the country was rejected and the matter deferred.
Ever since independence, the South Sudanese leadership has declared that they want to belong to the EAC and have submitted their application in November 2011. Following that step, Juba has done some lobbying to enter the EAC. However, the dispute with Sudan over non-demarcated borders and oil pipelines has brought a lot of headache to South Sudan. The production of oil, their main source of revenue at the time (98%!), had to be shut down as the only way to export its oil is through its northern neighbor, Sudan, and they refused to deliver it. Finally, in mid-March 2013, the two countries reached an agreement and South Sudan resumed oil production. Thus, exporting oil could be a “new” start for South Sudan to finally move on and provide the stability that the EAC wants to see as a precondition of joining the bloc.
In general, many reports come out during the past two years that South Sudan still faces a situation of lacking even the most basic infrastructures, ethnic unrest that has even led to massacres, corruption all over the place, and the government was not able to diversify the economy. Overall, in South Sudan there is a situation where independence hasn’t delivered to the people as of yet. Many people hoped for a bright future when independence was finally declared in July 2011. So far, the performance of the government is far behind expectations, although it was admittedly difficult to deal with the stop of the oil production.
From an economic perspective, it makes a lot of sense to integrate South Sudan into the East African bloc. Particularly for Kenya it will be very profitable that their northern neighbor will join as currently a pipeline, railway and motorway is built between the South Sudanese capital Juba and Lamu, a Kenyan city located at the Indian Ocean currently constructing a huge port that can export South Sudanese (and Ethiopian) goods and products, including oil. At the moment, the South Sudanese economy is still very much under-developed and riddled with corruption. However, the entry of South Sudan is a chance for the other East African countries to invest more safely thanks to the EAC framework that will allow for more guarantees and less bureaucracy. This can help to boost FDI into South Sudan from the region. For example, a lot of Kenyan businesses are already waiting in line to start investing but they face many difficulties. In short, the EAC can vitalize the South Sudanese economy and make it more friendly for investors.
Politically, there remains a question mark how much South Sudan will be able to contribute for further integration as they are very much inexperienced. Clearly, South Sudan wants to join to make clear that they do not belong to the North anymore, as they experienced a bloody civil war over 20 years that might have caused the life of some two million people. Yet, questions of a monetary union or even one of a federation seem to be very far away for leaders in Juba. Therefore, the entry of South Sudan might be somewhat of a risk for all the enthusiasts seeing more political integration of the EAC.
There is some way to go for South Sudan before they are able to join the EAC. Doing more lobbying in the capitals of the member states should be the main priority of Juba. After all, it is the political will of the five member countries which is needed so that this newly created country can join the bloc. Here, Juba can take away a lesson from the European Union (EU). It is easy to hide behind bureaucratic procedures that will always block the entry of candidates. However, with enough support and a vested interest of the political stakeholders a breakthrough can be achieved as it happened in the EU with the 2004 enlargement when ten member countries joined. Without the political will of the existing member states, some of the new members would have not been able to join at the time.
For sure, South Sudan needs a lot of improvements on many fronts. Yet, one can easily argue the same thing about the existing five EAC member states. Hopefully both, Juba as well as the EAC members, realize the necessity that South Sudan’s entry into the regional entity will ultimately benefit its people as they can benefit from less protectionism, more rights and easier traveling within the region.