East Africa’s Political Puzzle

Filed under: Africa,Featured |
map of east africa community photo

Map of the East African Community

Oil, electricity and agriculture are set to transform East Africa over the next decade. And in the regional jigsaw, politics, economics and security will fit together more tightly.

If all goes according to plan, East Africa will be uniquely positioned to supply the economies of the Gulf and South Asia with food and energy. The resources and the labour supply are assured, but the most critical piece is the politics.

Can the relative success of the East African Community (EAC) in moving towards a single market and political cooperation survive a radical expansion? South Sudan will be the next member, and Ethiopia is not far behind.

Given Ethiopia’s position as the fastest-growing state in the region, with the biggest army, diplomats say a face-saving formula will be found to invite it to join the community this year.

Somalia, whose civil war has drawn in armies from four East African states, also wants to join the EAC – partly because it doesn’t trust the Ethiopian-dominated Intergovernmental Authority for Development.

Almost every state in East Africa has announced that it has substantial oil and gas re- serves. To Uganda’s more than 2bn barrels of reserves have been added oil finds in Ethiopia’s south Omo region, oil in Kenya’s Turkana basin and Tanzania’s spectacular gas finds in Lindi and Mtwara.

Sudan and South Sudan are established – if antagonistic – oil producers and exporters, and the more adventurous exploration companies report finding substantial deposits along Somalia’s coastline.

Key to the new East African project are the region’s two biggest economies: Kenya and Ethiopia. The political differences between Nairobi’s competitive party system and Addis Ababa’s developmental authoritarianism are not insurmountable.

Going back to the Cold War, pro-US Kenya cooperated with pro-Soviet Ethiopia.

This time the imperative for political and economic cooperation is far stronger. After initial scepticism about Kenya’s invasion of Somalia, Ethiopia now sees it as giving an important boost to the African Union (AU) force there.

Kenya’s troops, unlike Ethiopia’s, are coming under the AU command. And Kenya’s plan to take Kismayo port, the main supply point for the Al-Shabaab insurrectionists, will change the dynamics. To prevent a nationalist backlash, the AU forces will have to secure a new accord with the differing clans to keep out the Al-Shabaab terrorists.

After the bloody aftermath of its 2006 invasion, Ethiopia has been more willing to accept Kenya’s idea of a negotiated security pact across Somalia’s complex clan structure.

Incremental successes in Somalia this year are encouraging both sides, while American and European security experts watch closely but pessimistically.

Policy makers in Nairobi and Addis Ababa say they accept they are in Somalia for the long haul – even if that message is difficult to sell to their people.

Another difficult message is for Addis Ababa and Nairobi to persuade Uganda and Tanzania to stay in the party. Prospects of rapid development of oil production in Kenya may obviate Uganda’s plans for a refinery supplying the region from its production centre in Bunyoro.

President Yoweri Museveni, who wants to be an executive president of the EAC, has little enthusiasm for Kenya’s Lamu project and did not attend the commissioning ceremony with other regional leaders in April.

Tanzania, a member of the Southern African Development Community, is pulled in another direction. South African companies are playing a leading role in the development of its gas and mining industries. But the East African project needs full backing from Kampala and Dar es Salaam.

In all of this, Kenya’s role – as a central point between Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda – will be critical. But first it has to hold a credible national election and appoint a foreign-policy team to shape a strategy that can win support across the region