South Sudan should only enter quietly
Once again leaders of the five countries that make up the East African Community met at what was referred to as a one-day extraordinary session at the Ngurdoto Lodge, on the outskirts of Arusha town in Tanzania.
The main topic on the table was the application by South Sudan to join the East African Community. The leaders were expected to make a decision but then they chose to do that at a later meeting towards the end of the year.
It must be remembered that soon after attaining their independence, South Sudan applied to join the regional bloc and Uganda with whom it shares a border and other EAC members promised to support its bid.
Interestingly their brothers in the Republic of Sudan had their application thrown out of the window on grounds that they did not meet the criteria set by the EAC treaty. All this is starting to look like a boring Spanish soap opera.
For example, why do countries that promised to support S. Sudan’s bid opt to postpone their decision to a later date? What is expected to change between now and then? Did they tell the South Sudanese to fix anything in that time period or it is just waiting for the sake of waiting? Time will tell.
South Sudan is also buoyed by the fact that it has already signed mega deals with countries like Kenya. The Lamu project is bound to cement ties between the two with or without the EAC admission. Already Uganda is a major exporter of food produce to South Sudan as well as a close military ally from the days of Dr. John Garang.
I don’t want to speculate on what our leaders were thinking while in Arusha that led them to postponement of the key decision, but I am certain of what my reasons would have been if I was on that table with the other leaders.
South Sudan is currently embroiled in a conflict with its northern brother that has got both brothers spoiling for a fight. There is a dispute of oil rich towns again. Yes that black gold that more often than not, turns out to be a curse is the problem once again.
I am not here to pick sides over the two but as an East African, I think we should not be allowing in new members who still have smoking guns slung on their shoulders. We need to set peace as a benchmark for membership in the EAC. Already four of the countries in the community have had violent pasts. We cannot afford to add another member with fresh conflicts.
When the community was being revived, Tanzania expressed its fears over the potential for violent conflict in Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. A few years later, Kenya joined this list when Samuel Kivuitu and company decided to adjust the settings of the 2007 general election.
If we want to scare our Tanzanian brothers more, there is no better way than to admit a country that is on the verge of war with its neighbour even before it celebrates its first independence.
Matters are not being helped by the fact that recent clashes in the North Kivu territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo, have seen hundreds of refugees streaming across the border into Rwanda.
In case fighting escalates in South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya will go back to hosting several refugees from their northern neighbour. A military conflict in South Sudan might also play into the hands of fugitive Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army reversing all the progress that had been made against him the recent years.
Without appearing patronising, I seriously think we should demand that South Sudan gets its house in order before it can be called to the table in Arusha. They are like the troubled child who asks for shelter but the host insists they should stop crying before they can be let in.
Even before we can give South Sudan any audience why don’t we first concentrate on consolidating the small gains of the community? Why are we in a hurry to admit new members to the community yet we have still failed to implement the EAC protocols.
Are we not biting more than we can chew? If EAC is the hot girl on the block then it should take its time when opening up to new suitors. South Sudan must be made to work for its membership with time. They need the EAC more than it needs them.
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