East Africa politics: Quick View - EAC summit reiterates old promises

Content Type
Country Data and Maps
Institution
Economist Intelligence Unit
Abstract
No abstract is available.
Topic
International Relations, Politics, News Analysis, Forecast
Political Geography
Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan

Event

Heads of state of the East African Community (EAC; Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan) convened on February 23rd for the 19th ordinary summit.

Analysis

The summit took place amid the mostly cordial relations between the member states, with a post-summit communiqué instructing the secretariat to implement the region's priority infrastructure projects and expedite progress towards establishing a regionwide monetary union. These are, however, old pledges that have never been undertaken and the summit served mostly as a reminder of the slow pace of regional integration in East Africa in recent years. Moreover, with the secretariat again bemoaning its lack of resources, governments' reluctance to allocate fiscal revenue to the EAC suggests that political will to develop the union is shakier than leaders' rhetoric might suggest.

Aside from slow-moving plans to deepen integration, though, trade relations in the bloc will remain of considerable importance to all member states. Intra-EAC trade has been declining in recent years and, with leaders blaming this on unfair competition from imports from Asia and Europe, regional trade policy is at risk of growing increasingly protectionist. The automotive industry and the textiles industry have been highlighted as priorities for development, and restrictions on imports (particularly of used cars and second-hand clothes) will be considered. The EAC's willingness to impose these amid political resistance from overseas is uncertain, however.

Specifically, declining trade between Kenya and Tanzania-the two largest members of the bloc-has contributed to the slowdown in intra-regional trade. Tit-for-tat trade restrictions have fuelled tensions between the neighbours over the past year, while allegations of harassment and bribery at border posts have further strained the countries' ties. But the countries' leaders maintain that relations are warm, with John Magufuli (Tanzania) and Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya) jointly calling on their respective ministers to resolve any outstanding disputes. We expect trade relations between the two countries to remain somewhat volatile, given the divergent interests of the neighbouring governments on trade of certain goods and services. But the largely cordial relations between leaders, coupled with the institutional framework provided by the EAC, supports our view that this will not escalate into a trade war.

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