Borrowing from the European Union in the East African Federation debate

East African Federation is a great idea because size – in geography and
demography – matters. There is no doubt that the strength and importance of the
United States and European Union (EU) in international relations derive from
their size. However, this greatness was not delivered on a silver platter and
on a date fixed in advance. In the EU the process of federation which began
after WWII is not yet completed because major problems have to be addressed
first before a political union is declared. European experience may therefore be
helpful in appreciating the challenges in the East African federation project
and how to address them for mutual net benefit.

of European conflict that culminated in the First and Second World Wars in the
first half of the twentieth century set the stage for a new beginning. Broken,
destroyed, poor, hungry, divided, vulnerable and occupied, Europeans had no
choice but to come together. Notwithstanding, the road has not been smooth and
major obstacles still remain.

Europeans embarked on an incremental process of integration beginning with a
common market in coal and steel industries, leading to the establishment of the
European Coal and Steel Community and later the European Economic Community.
Britain did not join a unified Europe because keeping the commonwealth countries
served her national interests better. When it decided to join French President
De Gaulle objected because Britain was not sufficiently ‘European’. It joined
after the resignation of De Gaulle.

treaty of Rome outlined steps to be taken in the process of an EU beginning with
a customs-free internal market and a common external tariff, a common
agricultural policy, a European commission to make proposals which would be approved
by a European legislature and a European Court of Justice to prepare laws
binding all member states.

economic integration process experienced set backs caused by the recession of
the 1970s and 1980s forcing member states to adopt divergent policies in
response to national challenges. Besides integration of European economies was
conceived against a background of national and regional differences in
endowments, levels of development, population size and volume of migration which
were addressed through regional redistribution and social policies. Funds for
regional development were doubled in 1987 and in early 1990s to bring about
equity. Additionally a ‘Social Charter” with a wide range of new social
policies was adopted and an action program implemented.

next major economic step was the establishment of the Economic and Monetary
Union. Thus discussion and adoption of economic, social and environmental
programs preceded the ongoing discussions for the creation of a political
union. This process is likened to building a house starting with the
foundation, then the walls and finally the roof. Thus constructing a roof on a
shaky foundation and walls has little or no chance of success much less of

of the deliberate and pragmatic step – by – step strategy, the EU has become a
great success story. Member states have pooled some dimensions of their
sovereignty together and have realized a high level of federalization. However,
enlargement of the Union with Eastern European members at different development
level has attracted many migrants to the western part creating tremendous

states in the East and Central African region that have begun the process of a
political federation should draw lessons from the EU experiences. The African
countries with vast differences in resource endowments particularly arable
land, demographic differences that may trigger massive migration, levels of development,
national identities and cultural differences may create serious problems that
may undermine the federation project if corrective steps are not taken in

of these challenges are not likely to be solved once the federation is in force.
These are matters that should not be rushed by the privileged elite to meet a
predetermined date leaving out the majority that may be ignorant of the long-term

negotiations should be based on simple, clear and common standards in the
economic, social and political areas and the identification of national and federal
mandates and responsibilities with flexibility to make changes should they
arise. That way a functional democracy can be established and sustained.