South Sudan’s odyssey to joining the EAC regional bloc
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has finally joined the East African Community (EAC) bloc, almost five years after it formally applied for membership. The announcement was made on 2, March, 2016, following the 17th Ordinary Session of Heads of States summit in Arusha, Tanzania
The first move to have South Sudan join EAC was initiated by Kenyan and Rwandan leaders during celebrations for South Sudan’s independence on July 9, 2011. These calls prompted South Sudan to submit a formal application for membership just within months following its independence. Nevertheless, these efforts were deferred by EAC member states in 2011, on the basis of institutional and legal bottlenecks as outlined in article 3 of the EAC treaty concerning basic principal requirements for admission of new member states.
The delay for membership was further compounded by the outbreak of South Sudan conflict in December 2013. The protracted conflict undermined South Sudan’s institutional authority and state building measures. As a result of the weak institutional framework, the EAC could not out rightly accept the admission of South Sudan into the regional bloc, due to protracted political instability.
However with the signing of the August 2015 peace agreement, following pressure from the UN Security Council’s cross cutting sanctions on key South Sudan leaders based on UN Panel of Experts report, EAC seemingly took advantage of the prevailing fragile peace to admit South Sudan into the regional bloc. The peace agreement, although still delicate, has opened an opportunity for political stability in the war weary nation.
The admission, albeit late in coming, needs to be understood within the context of shared historic, socio-economic and political ties between South Sudan and other EAC member states. The close tie between South Sudan and EAC member states was recently reiterated by Benjamin Marial. The South Sudan government’s foremost diplomat, while justifying South Sudan’s admission into the EAC, pointed out that over 70,000 South Sudanese students are currently enrolled in schools across Kenya and Uganda.
This huge number of South Sudanese, spread across East Africa, explains the close knit history of South Sudan and other EAC citizens. Despite these close historical ties, South Sudan’s entry into the EAC portends both challenges and opportunities not only at the domestic national level, but also at the regional level for EAC member states.
Possible challenges to South Sudan and EAC with the widening of integration process
For the EAC member states, one of the major concerns for worry as South Sudan joins the regional bloc is regional political stability. The world’s youngest nation has continuously been plagued by conflict, contrary to what most observers expected after breaking up with Khartoum and becoming an independent state. The fighting has seen numerous deaths and internal displacements. And like most conflicts across the region, triggered by schism over individual power sharing, the South Sudan fighting has rapidly morphed into an ethnic feud, with more complex underlying issues coming to the fore.
Thus spillover effect of a possible renewed conflict, should the peace agreement collapse, could presumably worsen humanitarian crisis across the region. There is likely to be more strain on resources and infrastructure in refugee host countries across the sub-region. The EAC is also likely to be deeply sucked into the conflict and compelled to seek measures at resolving a new wave of violence, in addition to Burundi crisis, as South Sudan is now part and parcel of the regional bloc.
Nevertheless, South Sudan and EAC should be more optimistic given the stark similarities between South Sudan and Rwanda, at the time of Rwanda’s entry into the regional bloc. Although Rwanda, just like South Sudan, was admitted at a critical juncture, when it was recovering from a protracted civil war, with weak institutional capacity, it managed to successfully integrate and currently has one of the strongest economic growth records in the region.
At the national domestic level, the main challenge that South Sudan government is likely to witness is the decline of revenue from import tax. The application of EAC common external tariff, coupled with the fact that goods manufactured from within the regional bloc entering EAC member states are duty free, is likely to see a slump in government revenue. This is especially so given the fact that South Sudan heavily relies on imports, mostly from Uganda and Kenya, which it subjected to taxation on its own term.
South Sudan could still negotiate with EAC on agreed timeline for implementation of key EAC protocols such as the principle of origin. This will provide room for harmonization of domestic and regional tax regimes.
Increased distribution and access to regional public goods for South Sudan and EAC
Despite the challenges, South Sudan’s entry in the regional bloc will reduce its cost of international trade. The fact that South Sudan is a landlocked country, albeit with vast natural resources, has made its imports and exports more costly. By joining EAC it will cheaply access regional infrastructures, such as sea ports and railways, thus lowering trade costs.
Regionally, notwithstanding the fear of political instability, the addition of South Sudan portends economic growth for the EAC member states. This is especially so given the expansion of EAC market to over 162 million people. In addition to the huge market for regionally manufactured products, large scale regional infrastructural projects, such as the Lamu transport corridor project, are expected spur growth and accelerate the distribution of regional public goods.
South Sudan’s entry into the EAC is a significant step not only for its citizens, but also for EAC member states. Although the new nation is bound to be met with varied challenges in the short run, the medium and long term benefits, should the peace agreement holds, outweigh the immediate hurdles it faces. In this regard, while South Sudan should be expected to adhere to the various binding EAC treaties, the implementation timeline needs to be anchored on a set time-frame. This will assist it to efficiently integrate within the regional bloc.
Image Credit: Afrika Insider