Ruto: Possibility of East African political federation no longer idle dream
Kenyan President William Ruto is openly pushing for the establishment of the East African Federation, endorsing an ambitious political formation that has been elusive and mostly avoided by his predecessors but one that hopes to guarantee a big market for regional goods and services and ensure strategic security.
“The community is becoming even more tightly connected with infrastructure systems criss-crossing the member countries. The possibility of an East African Federation is no longer a wild imagination or an idle dream. It is no longer a matter of if, it is a matter of when,” Ruto said in his Mashujaa Day address on October 20 in Nairobi.
“In the East African Community, the rigid territorial borders are firmly on the way out as we move towards full integration. Non-tariff barriers have come down and trade volumes have soared,” he added.
A political federation is the ultimate pillar in the East African Community (EAC) integration process, preceded by the Customs Union, Common Market and a Monetary Union in that order.
However, each of the pillars has been problematic to implement, leading sceptics to say that the federation may remain a mirage as it is also faces the challenge of competing political systems.
Uganda, for example, has no presidential term limit as compared to Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and DR Congo, yet President Yoweri Museveni is the main proponent of the federation.
How it would look like
Either, political integration could put the seven EAC member states under one political authority, or, as President Museveni suggested on October 9, the region could mimic the US by being split into various zones with different political authorities and a top-level regional government with specified roles.
Such an arrangement, the Uganda leader argued, could save the region from constant political wrangles.
“The best formula, if possible, so as to create a framework for guaranteeing the prosperity of people, is the USA formula – which entails both political and economic integration,” President Museveni said.
Dr Ruto’s endorsement means the ambition for the region is back on, coming from the region’s largest economy.
“The East African Community has become a close-knit neighbourhood, and everyone’s wellbeing has become everybody’s business. With this unity and integration, we will achieve much in our lifetime,” said President Ruto.
Earlier in the month, at Uganda’s 60th independence anniversary celebrations in Kampala, Ruto called for a borderless East Africa.
But it is unclear whether he intends to follow the pillars as scheduled in the EAC Treaty or the political federation will be prioritised.
Dr Ruto’s sentiments are in harmony with those of President Museveni’s son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who in a tweet on Wednesday last week called for the unification of the EAC politically.
“As your leader, appointed by yourselves, fellow African youth, I urge you to demand the immediate unification of East Africa. That is our minimal political programme. The rest I will guide you,” Muhoozi tweeted.
“As I said, I am your guide into the East African Federation. I shall show you how it can be done. Those who approve retweet and like.”
The Kenyan president has pledged to pursue a trade-driven pan-Africanism to deliver shared prosperity throughout the continent.
He is keen on promoting intra-EAC trade through integration and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
Dr Ruto said implementation of the AfCFTA would hasten the continent’s post-pandemic recovery, enhance climate change resilience and underpin stability in the face of multiple regional and global crises, including energy volatility.
“Kenya is a champion of the AfCFTA. Beyond ratifying the instruments establishing it and domesticating its framework, Kenya has been a consistent participant in efforts to make this continental agreement a reality,” Dr Ruto said.
“We see this as the pathway that guarantees inclusive African economic growth and sustainable self-reliance. Our implementation strategy envisions pan-African free trade as a vehicle for empowering small and medium enterprises.”
The EAC has a team seeking public views within the bloc about a confederation as a transitional model to the Political Federation.