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Joining East African Community Is Self-Destruction!

The attempt by the government of South Sudan to apply to joinThe East African Community compromises and sacrifices the economical growth of the encumbered young nation. The government submitted its application for the second time last year in its bid to join East African countries (EAC). The first application, however, was turned down with unpreparedness being cited by some of the members in the regional block. If the idea to join EAC is to boost the young nation’s economy then it is a misplaced step. Because South Sudan got nothing economically practical to offer or export to those countries as to earn it hard currency or stimulate its economy. The current trends of the market may justify my argument that South Sudan exports nothing to Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. In fact it imports everything including tomatoes from Uganda. The only thing it has achieved is sending children of officials and able business people to school in some of the above countries. 

 

The government pursuit to joining East Africa Community has caused mixed reactions from the members of the public. Many questions have been raised concerning readiness of the new nation to join a customs union or economic integration, common market or free trade with those countries, with a head start advantage. Some of the officials think it is a good idea because it will ease off visa requirements. Isn’t that cheap excuse? But most of fellow countrymen I interacted with cast doubt on the logic behind the application. 

 

Before I go in details let’s examine the meaning of regional integration and its purpose. Many definitions have been written. But for the purpose of this article I would like to use the definition of Business Dictionary. Regional integration is “An arrangement for enhancing cooperation through regional rules and institutions entered into by states of the same region”. It is inherent to logical establishment of concerned countries with the region to identify their collective interests hence form common goal. The common could either be a political or economical or security interests. The Business Dictionary puts it better that “Regional integration could have as its objective political or economic goals or in some cases, a business initiative aimed at broader security and commercial purposes. Regional integration could have an intergovernmental or supranational organization”.

 

I wish to highlight recent facts about the regional integration in Africa before illustrating reasons why South Sudan should not join the East African Community.

Perhaps Regional Integration is not new within African settings. When African countries got their independence in 1960s, a number of leaders called for integration of Africa. The prototypical integration quest was the unity of Africa influenced by political motivation and desire for sufficient scale to import substitution. There were no concrete steps taken till in early 70s and 80s when most leaders picked up the call. Many economic and political communities took concrete steps to enhance the regional organization including steps toward starting and strengthening the OAU. But some organizations like OAU,for example,collapsed or could not live up to the objectives. Some of these organizations collapsed by late 1980s and 1990s. Some economic blocks got opportunity for a face-lift and have been revived or renamed. OAU happens to be one that has been revived and renamed “AU”. The East African Economic community maintained its name but was reawakened during President Moi of Kenya, Benjamin of Tanzania and Museveni of Uganda tenure respectively. The East African Community collapsed when Uganda and Tanzania optedout due to what they termed as unfair economic advantage to/for Kenya. 

Kenya has an economic advantage over the rest of the East African countries because it has lived in peace since independence uninterruptedly from1960s. Uganda economy was interrupted by series of civil wars and coups. Despite efforts made by the founding fathers, the economy of Tanzania has continued to face some sort of difficulties since independence. This gave Kenya kind of a head start to Uganda and Tanzania. The leaders of this region have made considerable efforts to revive the community and have added two more members namely Rwanda and Burundi into their numbers. South Sudan applied in 2005 and by 2009 was refused entry to the regional block because the community thought we were not ready. Perhaps it carries with it a heavy burden of insecurity. Who knows may be the community might have felt pity on the South Sudanese business community since it can’t compete with them on equal footing.

 

How did the community rejuvenate the union? 

 

Kenya was persuaded to allow exports to Uganda and Tanzania to be taxed while their goods enter Kenya free of taxes for a period of five years. This was to give those two countries,which seemed to have lagged behind time to catch up. When one compares economic status, and level of exposure of the people of South Sudan with those countries, namely Uganda and Tanzania, you would realize that they are far ahead of South Sudan much more than Kenya is ahead of them. My humble question is what preparation has South Sudan put in place to help her citizens, especially her business community to cope with the shocks associated with the new market relations? If South Sudan gets admitted today would her citizens compete with East Africans in business community successfully? I think they would simply be outmaneuvered out of business and become consumers.Why is it so important for us to join this community?

There are some advantages in joining any economic community. Politically speaking it is important to belong to any regional integration.Our world has not changed much since time immemorial. What has changed is civilization, but the strong still dominate the weak. Besides economic reasons, countries come together to guarantee political protection. This helps to warn the bullies that an attack on one of the member in the block is an attack against all of them. There could be an economic advantage if the countries involved are on equal economic strength or at least closer to the other in strength. But when the countries in a block are not of the same strength, the weak get negative brands of the disadvantages.

 

Equally important, South Sudan government needs to prepare the citizens before requesting to join the East Africa Community. It has not even been able to build its informal business sector neither has it built conventional industries that would make it possible for its business community to export goods. 

 

If need be, it should create a Ministry of Regional Trade and Cooperation Affairs to prepare policies thereof.

Our people may not be cooperative and this may result into pressure on South Sudan government pitting the state against the people and vice versa.The scenario of South Africa where citizens took their frustration on the foreign nationals would be a disaster if lack of preparedness of the citizens lead to blaming EAC citizens inside South Sudan, especially after joining the community.

Watch out while it’s still early! Think twice before taking the decision!

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