In Africa, a 60 year old dream is on its way to becoming a reality. The East African Community (Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC), have sat back down at the drawing board in order to draft a constitution for the East African Federation, a single country which would see the seven, unified into one.
The idea has existed in some form or another starting from the decolonization of Africa in the early 60’s, of a proposed Union between Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, and Zanzibar. The union never took place in full, though Tanganyika and Zanzibar did unify into modern Tanzania, but the idea has lived on.
Processes for the Federation are to take four steps. The EAC is to pursue a unified Customs Union, then a Common Market, followed by Monetary Union (a single currency), followed, finally, by Political Federation. Two of these four steps, the Customs Union and the Common Market, have already been implemented. In January 2023 the EAC announced it would be pursuing a roll-out of a single currency within the next four years.
The Common Market has already seen significant benefit for its member states, allowing each nations strengths to compensate for another nations weaknesses, allowing for significantly easier job immigration between member states, as well as for students from each respective nation to travel and study in different areas, maximizing their potential. While individually some of the member states would not be able to make a dent in the world economy, united the East African Federation has the chance to become a developed nation within a few years of its establishment.
Technically speaking, the union is supposed to have happened by now. There have been several dates set up for both the unified currency as well as the federation, all of which have, evidently, passed. While different challenges have arisen, been accomplished, and replaced by new ones, Kenyan President William Ruto is hopeful.
The EAC Committee of Experts was received on May 25th by President Ruto, who urged the committee to “fast-track” the process, in hopes of drawing up a first-draft of a constitution for the federation by June 2024 at the latest. Previously, a similar committee had met in January of 2020, hoping to have the draft by the end of 2021, and the establishment of the Federation in 2023. This was put on hold due to complications from the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Since then, however, new challenges have arisen. Historically the creation of the Federation has been met with a number of issues. Political instability in certain regions, lack of a common language (while Swahili has been proposed as the Lingua Franca of the Federation, it is used significantly more in some member states than others), as well as some ethnic divide. With the admittance of South Sudan in 2016 brought with it the issue of severe infrastructure problems in the fledgling nation, something the EAC seeks to remedy. One of the greatest challenges, however, is the DRC.
The DRC is fairly new to the EAC, only having officially been admitted last year in April of 2022. However, it has a significant amount of armed groups that operate within its borders, with well over 100 groups operating in the Eastern portion alone (primarily the North and South Kivu provinces). One of the most notable of the groups, the M23 Rebel Group, is allegedly funded and supplied by Rwanda, another EAC member. The tensions between the DRC and Rwanda over the M23, as well as the FDLR (a militant group in the DRC that’s origins come from Hutu militants who escaped to the DRC after the Rwandan Genocide), have threatened a number of times to boil over into war between the two nations.
The EAC, as well as a number of international players, have deployed troops in order to assist in pacification efforts of the DRC’s countryside (the EAC’s deployment being the EAC Regional Force, or EACRF), but the ultimate achievement of this goal is still a long way off. Many within the EAC nations believe that the EAC, and the eventual federation, could create lasting peace within the region. While the EACRF has successfully occupied a number of areas that the M23 has withdrawn from in accordance with established peace processes, it has drawn criticism from the DRC’s government, primarily DRC President Tshisekedi, due to them not directly engaging the rebels.
While the drafting of the constitution by next year and eventual Confederation is not at all impossible, it still remains an ambitious goal, with several hurdles in its way.
Should the nation be created, using present statistics from its individual member states it would be the fourth most populous country in the world (with a population of 312 million people in 2022), and the fourth largest economy in Africa. Its capital has been proposed to be Arusha, a city in Tanzania, and its borders would span the continent, connecting to both the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic.
Regardless of the obstacles, President William Ruto said he believes the people of East Africa want to live together, and in a press release is quoted as saying that “Partner States should not entertain the barriers occasioned by the boundaries created by the former colonial powers for their own imperial interests”.
Whether the President’s wishes will be realized, and the EAC can overcome the difficult processes ahead of them, remains to be seen. But still, the people remain hopeful of a peaceful and prosperous future as a player not just in Africa, but on the world stage as well.