PUBLISHED ON February 16th, 2015

Civil unrest dims chances of South Sudan joining the EAC

South Sudan is lobbying to be admitted to the East African Community despite not meeting all the membership requirements.

The application by South Sudan will be discussed at the EAC summit in Nairobi on February 20.

Diplomatic sources see only a remote chance of the nascent state being admitted then, although the leaders, who are the decision makers, can resolve to accept the application against the advice of their technocrats.

South Sudan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin says it would be “prudent” to admit the country then have the EAC help it to meet all the conditions from within the bloc.

Dr Benjamin said the argument that South Sudan should first meet certain criteria is not convincing because there are standards the country has already met and it can be given a grace period to fulfil those that are pending.

“We always argue with our sisters and brothers within the EAC over why they want to wait for South Sudan to reach the level they want and yet these standards can be achieved when we are inside,” Dr Benjamin told The EastAfrican. “It is possible to admit us so that other members can shape us in the way they want us to conduct ourselves.”

The 1999 EAC Treaty sets out conditions for membership — including adherence to universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, rule of law, observance of human rights and social justice.

In December 2012, EAC members rejected South Sudan’s application, citing its periodic conflict with neighbouring Sudan, not holding democratic elections and lack of a democratic culture whereby SPLM ran roughshod over other political parties.

The ongoing war there has complicated the matter further, given the many war crimes and crimes against humanity since December 2013.

In the Extraordinary Heads of State Summit in Arusha last April, EAC presidents agreed to postpone the final negotiations on the bid after a request by Juba to defer the process so as to allow for national consultation and preparations following escalation of fighting between government forces and rebels loyal to former vice-president Dr Riek Machar.

Dr Benjamin argued that the conflict could not have escalated this far had South Sudan been in the EAC, because the bloc would have been obliged to intervene immediately.

Diplomatic sources intimated that there is a provision of admitting South Sudan “as is” and give it a grace period to fulfil the remaining conditions or be discontinued. But for the rule to apply, the country must meet the minimum threshold by pledging to eliminate all factors promoting internal conflict and hold democratic elections in a given period.

Other sources say some South Sudan technocrats are hesitant to join the EAC because they are still assessing the benefits and are concerned that once the country joins the regional bloc, it will open the floodgates for skilled labour from all the five partner state to compete for jobs in South Sudan.

Still, Juba is banking on the example of Burundi, which was admitted in 2007 — together with Rwanda — despite not meeting all the conditions.

Prof Peter Kagwanja, the chief executive of the Africa Policy Institute, noted that Burundi could not have met all the conditions because it was just emerging from 13 years of civil war, but the country had at least conducted its first peaceful elections in 2005.

“Burundi remains the weak link within the EAC but there was no way of admitting Rwanda without dragging along Burundi,” said Prof Kagwanja.

He however noted that South Sudanese have more business and social links with EAC partner states such as Kenya and Uganda than the two countries have with Burundi and Rwanda.

Source: The East African

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