Form of Federal Model for East Africa

Referendum a must to decide on EA federation

During the seventh summit of the East Africa Community (EAC), the heads of State of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya said that political federation was the most urgent business for East Africa. A team has already been appointed to oversee the process of transforming EAC into one country.

Obviously, there are several prospects of regional integration. An integrated EA will have economies of scale and bigger markets. A united EA will also act as a counterweight to the external forces of globalization.

Though most East Africans seem to support the integration process, there are questions that have to be addressed now. First, what form of federal model does EAC intend to achieve? Is it the traditional form of federation as found in the US, Germany, Nigeria, Ethiopia, former USSR, former Yugoslavia or a contemporary form of confederation as the European Union?

Second, an East African political federation will need a good constitution to govern such a vast and diversified country. The constitution will have to state clearly the principles of separation of powers, checks and balances and devolution of powers to the people at the grassroots. East Africans will not accept a 'centralized' form of governance.

Third, since the political union should be in place by 2011, when will the constitution-making process for the proposed federation begin? From experience, the law review process has been complex in Kenya and Uganda. What has been put in place to ensure that a 'half-baked' constitution of EA federation is not imposed on the people?

Fourth, the EA integration process should not be left to the political and business class alone. It must be people-driven and inclusive. Although political leadership is quite imperative to the process, politicians' interests might not necessarily be in conformity with the citizens' interests.

Fifth, the debate on the EA integration process especially on political federation must be open as much as possible. The people must have the opportunity to express their views without intimidation or manipulation. Further, each Partner State must begin educating rather than 'indoctrinating' its citizens about the benefits of integration.

Seventh, the EAC should look beyond the present membership. Already Rwanda and Burundi has applied to join. Will a federation (US model) or a confederation (EU model) be more accommodating to new members? Finally, East Africans must be given a chance to approve or disapprove the formation of an East African State through a referendum.

Paul Odhiambo, Nairobi
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