Compared to the ECOWAS sub-region, East Africa’s foray into economic integration commenced in 1967 – almost a good decade before ECOWAS was established in 1975. By the time the first EAC collapsed in 1977, ECOWAS was a mere institutional baby.
By the time EAC was re-established in 1999, ECOWAS had gone through numerous strides in those 22 years. This included ending the Sierra Leone/Liberian civil wars that dogged Ecowas from 1990-1997, but catapulted the regional institution into superstar status with an indigenous West African force under ECOMOG that single-handedly took out Charles Taylor.
ECOWAS had also revised its Treaty in 1993, conferring supranationality onto the West African regional institution, including an article 70 that ensured ECOWAS would enjoy predictable internally-generated funding with an ECOWAS levy.
Today, ECOWAS continues to enjoy predictable regional funding. Regrettably, even after 1999 when EAC, mach 2, was established, the-then three founding members of EAC (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) had yet to come up with internally-generated funding. In 2019, this headache persisted, with most of the funding coming from donors like GIZ.
Challenges with the East African Community notwithstanding, East Africa is a very different region in 2020. It is a region making strides in energy security, and one consolidating its financial integration.
Additionally, Ethiopia’s impressive rapprochement with Eritrea, the only country yet to either sign or ratify the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCfta), has triggered a new wave of optimism that is likely to set the pace for a new future that could include the request of Ethiopia (hegemon in the IGAD region) to join the EAC.
No less than President Kagame of Rwanda, in an interview for the Kusi Festival in December 2019 explained the likelihood of EAC expansion as logic rooted not just “in geography, but history and culture.”
With Afcfta operationalisation happening in July 2020, could EAC expansion towards the strategic Northern Corridor, which transport infrastructure in East and Central Africa provides a gateway from Kenya to landlocked Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, eastern DR Congo, and South Sudan, be the catalyst for a more integrated post-Afcfta East Africa?