The recently closed East African Community summit admitted South Sudan as its sixth member. South Sudan’s application has been pending since 2011 when it became an independent nation.
Within the borders of the community today are numbers that will closely rival those of other major economic blocks. EAC now has at least 170 million people or slightly more than half the 330 million living inside the European Union or half the population of the United States.
President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya pointed out at the admission of South Sudan that EAC covered as much territory as India.
Admission or pre-entry negotiations today may not be as complicated as they are for more mature blocs such as the European Union but there are key questions that are coming up.
As of today, there are a number of low, medium and high intensity conflicts inside the borders of the EAC.
South Sudan, the newest member, has been in the throes of a major fall-out in the SPLM and war pitting two internal factions against each other, border conflict with the north and tension with Sudan over control of oil resources.
In fact, the global oil price collapse has limited the scope of these conflicts after bankrupting the Juba treasury.
Kenya has borne the brunt of al-Shabaab attacks in the region in the last five years, especially during the early days of the Kenyatta regime. Things are not going on exactly well for Kenya and Uganda in Somalia where the death toll from random attacks on foreign troops is high.
The porous border affects Kenya and the fact that for a long time, certain elements of the Somali community have not been fully integrated in Kenyan society is also a problem.
Tanzania has taken full advantage of being the most secure of the bloc. Every five years, Zanzibar presents a new bottleneck where the Arab majority on Pemba finds its voice stifled through the democratic process.
The viability of Unguja and Pemba as more autonomous of each other has not been explored and the mainland is starting to get weary of Zanzibar issues. Of course, that story will change if Zanzibar strikes rich offshore reserves tomorrow or some other strategic resource.
Rwanda and Burundi are at each other’s necks. Burundi accuses Rwanda of interference in its domestic matters and Burundi has been managing a low intensity internal conflict and fall-out that has claimed about 400 people since the contested presidential election where the incumbent was elected to a third five-year term.
Rwanda just amended its constitution allowing the incumbent to run for a third presidential term and in Uganda, the incumbent has just been re-elected to a record fifth five-year term.
These confusing political signals and security challenges pose the next question – whether political integration will see some community political and security organs equal to the task.
Even for the economics to work requires leaders to think a lot bigger. So far not so bad!