Temper your enthusiasm for South Sudanese EAC membership

Today, the 24th Extraordinary Meeting of the East African Community’s Council of Ministers, taking place in Arusha, will start discussing the set up of a verification committee to probe if South Sudan meets the criteria to join the EAC. This development comes on the heels of November’s EAC Heads of State summit, which requested the Council to review the newly independent nation’s application.

I know I go against the grain when I say this, but I’ve always been of the opinion that South Sudan isnt ready to join the rest of the ‘family’, or rather, the family shouldn’t let it join for a while longer. South Sudan just become an independent state last year, born of war and strife, and I don’t think that it is the kind of stable partner that the EAC needs in order to take it to the next level. Yes, it has oil and hectares upon hectares of arable land, but I don’t think that is enough.

East Africa is enjoying a period of calm and relative peace, despite a few security issues here and there, and this period of stability is what is driving our economies forward, giving citizens the opportunity to leave poverty behind. What I see when I look north is nothing but bad news.

Only on Monday, the Sudanese Government announced that that it had killed 938 Sudanese People Liberation Movement (SPLM) and Justice and Equality Movement soldiers in battles to push the South Sudanese out of the oil-rich Higlieg area. This after SPLM illegally crossed the common border with the north. The South Sudanese dispute the fact that they were defeated militarily; they say that they voluntarily withdrew. But this is beside the point; what is fact is that South Sudan broke international law and invaded the North. Of course you can say that the North started it. But the North isnt trying to join the EAC, the South is. And it therefore is a legitimate target for my misgivings.

Fortunately, the fighting has abated for now but I must ask, what guarantees do we have that peace will remain? Imagine what would happen if South Sudan declared war on Sudan, after being admitted into the EAC? Wouldn’t the rest of us get dragged into the mess? What guarantees would we have that this won’t happen?

Article 3 (3) of the EAC Treaty sets out various conditions for membership in the EAC. These conditions include universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, observance of human rights and social justice. The EAC Treaty further stipulates that for a country to be admitted as a member, it should be able to contribute towards the strengthening of integration within the region.

Just looking at the events of the past couple of weeks, I cannot, for the life of me, see how South Sudan (in the state it is in presently at least) can contribute to the strengthening of regional integration.

What I suggest is something that the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, thinks the European Union should do, in regards to Turkey’s EU accession wish. Instead of giving South Sudan EAC membership, perhaps we should give them special observer status for the time being. This status will give them the opportunity to get involved in EAC activities while they fix the mess at home. The EAC can help them strengthen their economy and general good governance without the risk of getting involved either in an armed conflict with Sudan or with other South Sudanese rebels. Plus, the incentive to receive full EAC membership will help focus Juba’s mind. EAC membership should be seen as a reward for reform and good governance, not as simply a reward for geographical proximity and crude oil.

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