MWANGI: Should we allow political intrigues to hold everyone hostage?

MWANGI: Should we allow political intrigues to hold everyone hostage?

There are rules that simply don’t make much sense when dealing with six partner states – and the one requiring the presence of all partner states before transacting any business at the regional Assembly is certainly a good example.

As the Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), Daniel Kidega, dissolved the Third Assembly, it became evident that the Fourth Assembly could not start as scheduled and had to be postponed indefinitely. This follows political duels in Kenya between the ruling Jubilee coalition and the opposition over the selection of members to the regional Assembly.

Political parties in Kenya are allocated slots in EALA according to their numerical strength in parliament. Parliament, which has a majority from the ruling coalition, has asked opposition parties to nominate more names than the slots available, from which their members to EALA will be picked. The opposition has declined to do so and nominated the exact numbers that are due to them.

As a result of this crisis in one partner state, the inauguration of the Fourth Assembly that was initially scheduled for June 5 has now had to be postponed until further notice. It is a problem that will affect all the legislative business of the whole Community, without any timelines of when it will possibly be resolved.

It is by no means the only instance when the Community is being held back by such problems occasioned by one or two partner states. With South Sudan having joined as the latest member and Somalia’s application being considered, the expansion of the Community can only lead to more problems of this nature in the future. That is, unless a new method is found of dealing with such issues so as not to cripple the business of the regional economic bloc’s Organs and Institutions.

Recently, the matter of an Economic Partnership Agreement between the EAC and the European Union has raised divisions, delaying its signing to the disadvantage of Kenya. With Tanzania, in particular, being vehemently opposed to the deal – and for good reason – the deal is unlikely to see the light of day any time soon, at least not in its current lopsided state.

It is this sort of problems that led the heads of state to initiate what has come to be known as the principle of variable geometry, which allows countries that are ready to proceed with an initiative to go ahead without having to wait for others that are taking their time. Unfortunately, this also led to divisions, most notably that of the “coalition of the willing” a couple of years ago that was pitted against an unspoken group of “unwilling” countries.

Back to EALA. Given these scenarios, what will happen if – at any time in the future – a partner state is embroiled in civil conflict that does not allow appointment of its share of members to the regional legislature? Will this regional Assembly keep its doors closed indefinitely? This shows a clear institutional weakness on the part of EALA and other regional arrangements.

While the interests of all state parties should be accommodated as much as possible, it should not be the case that no business can be transacted due to the absence of one partner state on the table for whatever reason. Legislation can be enacted to handle this and similar scenarios in our regional bodies.

This is an important matter especially when it is considered that regional integration may now have reached a point from which it is difficult to forge ahead. With the full implementation of the Common Market Protocol having essentially stalled due to numerous on-tariff barriers, it is impossible to move to the next pillar of integration –Monetary Union. Political federation remains a distant dream, with the partner states having realized this state of affairs and watered down their ambitions to what is being touted as a political “confederation.”

Should Kenya’s internal political intrigues hold everyone else in the Community hostage? What about trouble in Juba or Bujumbura? Or maybe intransigence by Tanzania? Rwanda? Uganda? This mess needs to be sorted out, and fast.

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Story By Isaac Mwangi
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