The ongoing raging debate on whether Britain should remain or leave the 28 member European Union (EU), as well as the expected aftershocks of the June 23, referendum offers a perfect learning opportunity to policy-makers, proponents, and students of regional integration processes globally as well as across the African continent. In Africa, the East African Community (EAC), perhaps due the fact that it’s obviously the most ambitious and progressive regional bloc on the continent, has the greatest lessons to learn from the Brexit debate. The lessons are in addition to the experience of how the EU handles the aftershocks of the post-referendum. This is regardless of whether Britain remains within or exits the European Union.
The architects of the EAC have over the years relied on the EU regional integration model as a template for regional integration, a fact that gives credence to why EAC need to pay attention to the ongoing debate on Brexit and its implication to the future of EU. The EAC, just like the EU, has had its ultimate ambition as the formation of a political union, albeit within a stagiest process, primed on economic integration prior to political unification. Nevertheless, similar to the EU, the EAC has been wrought with hurdles on pragmatic implementation of regional integration processes, despite the clear roadmap as outlined on its treaty.
One of the main challenges has been the lack of goodwill to harmonize, ratify and implement signed treaties to be in line with governance structures and constitutional elements across all the EAC member states at national and regional levels. This has resulted in the slow paced nature of the integration process. However, the big thorn in the flesh, with regard to both the EU and EAC integration efforts has been the traditional problem of nationalism and sovereignty. Although Britain, since joining the European Economic Community in 1973, seems to have received special status within the EU to the point of appearing as an appeasement effort, Britain’s Euro skeptics, mostly confined within the Conservative party, seems to have made up their mind to regain the minute semblance of sovereignty that Britain had seceded to the EU.
This has been witnessed by the fact that, despite the EU, just late last year, agreeing to a raft of measures on the basis of Britain’s four main areas of reforms that include;-immigration policy, financial and economic regulation, competitiveness, and national security- presented to the EU by British Prime Minister David Cameron in November 2015, proponents of Britain exiting the EU still feel that total breakout from the EU and restoration of sovereignty is the guarantee of a secure and economically prosperous Britain.
The open aloofness and distrust of Britain towards deepening and widening of the EU mirrors the dynamics of EAC integration efforts and the attitude of some of its member states towards integration. Tanzania in particular and its approach to EAC integration efforts bear semblance to Britain’s euro skeptics. The fact that Tanzania is geographically and strategically situated; sharing borders with all EAC member states except South Sudan, the latest entrant into EAC, in addition to its vast territory makes it a significant actor in the EAC integration process, Tanzania has mostly been lukewarm towards integration.
This was especially so during the reign of President Jakaya Kiwewte who seemed to have been less enthusiastic with regard to regional infrastructural projects aimed at boosting integration. However, this seems to have changed with the election of President John Pombe Magufuli. Nevertheless, the distrust between member states, especially at individual top leadership levels still needs to be addressed for effective EAC regional integration efforts, especially following the widening of EAC, to include South Sudan, and its deepening, especially within the realm of economic integration.
Perhaps to avoid further disintegration within the EU, that is likely to follow should Britain exit the 28 member regional bloc, and in the case for EAC to ensure a seamless integration process, both the EU and EAC should recalibrate their approach towards regional integration back to the basic architectural foundations necessary for the building of a regional bloc. This should involve promoting social integration as the tenet of economic and political integration. The need for member states to promote awareness of shared values, norms, as well as the benefits of belonging to a regional bloc is likely to spur ownership and create a common identity amongst the general public. This is likely to lead to an even stronger economic and political cooperation if ordinary citizens feel the spillover effects of regional public goods accrued from integration.
In both EAC and EU, policy decision making processes have been left to the elites and multinational corporations, who have the advantage of economy of scale, disenfranchising small scale traders who are the actual builders of a truly socially, economically, and politically integrated regional blocs. The goal of EAC and EU should therefore be to minimize the level of complex bureaucracy and laws that govern regional integration processes, and ensure more participation of common citizenry in the formulation and implementation of policy decisions that drive integration through awareness campaigns.