A federation, according to wordweb, is the act of constituting a political unity out of a number of separate states or colonies or provinces so that each member retains the management of its internal affairs. The ultimate aim of the east African community is to become a political federation by 2013. Of course this will not happen by that time, but let us avoid that line of debate for now.
The main thrust of this blog is whether the east African community will be better off forming a political federation. I have been one of the greatest proponents of a political federation in recent times, because of the following reasons;
- 1. None of the five east African states is viable at the moment as a single entity. Problems of tribalism in Kenya and Uganda, religious differences in Tanzania, history of conflict in Uganda and Rwanda/Burundi, and dependence on foreign aid in all the five partner states means that all five are in some state of failure, as a quick consult on the fund for peace failed states index will doubtless tell you. A political federation might have stronger institutions and power to solve these problems.
- 2. All five states are constructs of colonial times, and they were not designed by looking at the ethnic, historic and political realities. A supra state formed by the citizens of east Africa might be more successful in forging patriotism and attacking negative ethnicity since it will have been formed by the citizens themselves.
- 3. The economic potential of a state of east Africa is profound. The natural resources, tourism potential, human resources and potential for increased trade and economic development means it’s makes too much sense economically not to be given serious thought.
- 4. It will strike a blow for pan-Africanism and silence doubters, who have always noted that even though the current states are colonial constructs, they have more or less remained strong and never threatened by the pan Africanist ideologues, both of the Monrovia and Casablanca schools of thought.
- 5. It will change the dynamics of politics forever in the east African region. Ethnic mobilization in Kenya especially, will be reduced since the power will have moved to a greater place. Hence maybe, just maybe the fight for political power will be based on more salient issues and ideologies.
- 6. It may reduce the inter and intra state conflicts in the region such as the LRA movement, secessionist calls in Zanzibar and Kenya’s coastal regions.
The arguments for an east African political federation are quite strong. Why then, arethere so much pessimism and dragging of feet towards implementing the fourthand most radical pillar of the EAC, after the customs union, common market and monetary union? Why am I starting to have second thoughts about the political federation of the east African states?
There is much understandable angst among the “middle” powers of EAC such as Tanzania and Uganda that they will be dominated by Kenya.
However, that is not the real concern. The biggest issue, according to me is how the battle for the “hearts and minds” of east African minds was lost at the very inception of the east African community in mid-2000. The argument for the EAC has always been fought on the economic side, while the ideological side of it has been neglected.
The pertinent question here is, why would a Kenyan be better off in an east African political federation, rather than being a Kenyan? The arguments I articulated above show what a political federation might achieve, but clearly they require abolition of the states as they are at present. Having a political federation at the same time as having the states maintained just doesn’t seem too useful to me. It should be either, or.
East Africa is not like Europe, where there are centuries old ties to the state. All EAC countries are barely 50 years old. Why all this pussyfooting around the political federation issue?? Lack of political will, and downgrading the political unity question from a potential supra-state to a EU like union where power lays everywhere and nowhere at once!! This will not solve the political problems facing all five partner states, in fact it might just exercabate them.
In my opinion, if the political federation chosen by the partner states is a loose one where power is held by both states and the east African community, then there might be problems ahead we might not be ready for.
It is better an economic union where fundamentalist ideals are at the heart of the union, than a political federation that is created with no political will, no input from the citizens and civil society, and that is characterised by much infighting and pessimism between and among the partner states.
Such a union cant last.