In a recent opinion piece for the Pambazuka News that was picked up by allafrica.com Dr. Odomaro Mubangizi writes about the future prospects of the East African Community, which consists currently of Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rawanda, as they were coming to the agreement over a proposed monetary union that was to see implementation within the next 10 years. In the piece he likens the EAC and its future prospects to the EU, while being careful to note the large differences in the two regions and the formations of each organization, he suggests that increased integration and cooperation within the EAC throughout various sectors will lead to one of Africa’s most prosperous intergovernmental and economic cooperation alliances that could turn the region into a rising actor in the global economy.
He points to the EAC as an infrastructure hub within Africa and its growing projects, such a high speed rail that will connect four of the five countries of the sub-region, along with improvement of existing bus systems and their international extensions as signs of tremendous potential in economic and human development terms in a region where a common market counting 160 million people(and growing) is present. He also points to the resource sector that is starting to boom in the EAC due to recent oil discoveries in Uganda and Kenya as well as natural gas deposits discovered in Tanzania. He also points to international investment attention from rising global players such as Brazil, China, and India. Another possible sector with a large economic potential of the EAC that he mentions is that of tourism due to the presence of very internationally attractive national parks, such as Serengti and Kidepo. He also mentions the possible strategic geopolitical advantages of the EAC with regards to cooperating more militarily between the countries to combat rebel groups and other dangers in the sub-region while also being able to cooperate more as a sub-region on security matters with other regional organizations, such as the Afican Union, who are headquartered in close proximity to the EAC. Lastly he mentions the strategic advantage of the EAC in terms of what he calls the “demographic dividend”, suggesting that the high amount of increasingly more educated and innovative youth in the sub-region have much human capital that will only be magnified by cooperation and mobility within the EAC as it becomes a more integrated community.
The tone of his opinion piece is a very optimistic one, but is he reaching a little far by pointing out the mostly positive aspects of the EAC without giving considerable attention to the possible roadblocks that lie in the path of that progress? The five countries within the EAC have seen many recent improvements, but have political situations and governments that can not be counted as completely stable or relatively not corrupt. International infrastructure projects will rely heavily on cross border cooperation and could easily be interrupted by political instability or disagreement by incoming government on financial burden sharing within the EAC. Stability in the sub-region will also play a determining factor in the other areas that he mentions as strategically positive within the EAC such as international tourism and investment. The military cooperation within the sub-region would be a positive step, but could also be seen as fragile due to the civil-military relations considerations within some of the countries. These are not challenges that cannot be overcome and the EAC may actually prove to be a positive institution for joint cooperation in dealing with some of the challenges to stability faced by its members. However, as Dr. Mubangizi uses the European Union for comparison of the benefits that closer economic and political union can bring, it would serve well to note the many varied difficulties that the EU encounters at an increasing pace dealing with their economic and political cooperation and also that these major issues arise despite the members of the EU having much longer experiences with degrees of political stability that have not been present in the member countries of the EAC. I think the EAC does offer plenty of potential for the sub-region and its further integration should be viewed quite positively, but I would be cautious about the tendency of such great potential to be partially blinding to the not completely stable nature of the sub-region and the negative effects that instability could play on that potential.