Kiir to take over EAC leadership as states default on dues
South Sudan is taking over the mantle of the East African Community amid pressure to show integration credentials and pay up arrears for bloc membership.
President Salva Kiir who is due to become the new Chair of the EAC Summit could either use the occasion to prove doubters wrong or expose the soft underbelly of Juba on regional scale.
South Sudan remains the biggest defaulter of membership fees with a total of about $30 million, – after paying $7 million this week. The Democratic Republic of Congo is yet to contribute anything from its $14.7 million arrears.
Burundi owes the bloc $15.5million, Tanzania $123,694, Rwanda owes $7.3 million while Uganda is yet to pay $6.1 million. Kenya has the least burden with just $20 pending.
But the issue of paying up also reflects on the importance members attach to the bloc. DRC officials last week said they had yet to see the best of the Community even though a government spokesman said they will stick in the bloc.
Read: DR Congo’s expectations in EAC ‘unfulfilled’
This week, lawmakers at the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) tabled a motion to call the Council of Ministers to suspend member states that are yet to fulfill their financial obligations.
It met resistance from DRC lawmakers who walked out of the parliament. The motion is expected to return for debate once again next month when EALA will be holding its last sitting of 2023.
But supporters of the motion said the Council of Ministers should implement mechanisms of enforcing the provisions of Article 143 and 146 of the Treaty for the establishment of the East African Community.
Article 146 of the East African Community says, “The Summit may suspend a Partner State from taking part in the activities of the Community if that State fails to observe and fulfil the fundamental principles and objectives of the Treaty including failure to meet financial commitments to the Community within a period of eighteen (18) months.”
A suspended partner state normally loses benefits provided for under the Treaty but shall continue to be bound by membership obligations until the suspension is lifted.
The motion was moved by Kenyan law maker Godfrey Maina Mwangi, “the non-remittance of contributions by Partner States is adversely affecting the activities of the Community, including this Assembly which are supposed to be funded by the contributions from the Partner States,” said the Kenyan law maker.
Read: Kenya pushes for veto power in EAC
“We are discouraged by the fact that although Partner States are not compliant with the commitment to remit funds to the Commitment by 31st December in each year, the Council has not taken any action to ensure that Partner States consistently meet their financial obligations under Article 132 of the Treaty,” the motion read.
President Kiir is set to replace Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye whose one-year tenure came to an end mid this year.
The EAC heads of State summit is expected to take place next week in Arusha, Tanzania, on 23rd to 24th November where the EAC heads of state are also expected to discuss climate change and food security.
“Kiir’s nomination as chairman is a testament to South Sudan’s commitment to regional integration,” said Dr Peter Mathuki, Secretary General EAC when he paid Juba a visit in September this year.
President Kiir is expected to steer the regional bloc at a time when the region is holding discussions on peace and security in the region, particularly in his home country South Sudan where a civil war has ravaged it since 2013.
There is also the crisis in Sudan and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where South Sudan has deployed troops as part of the East African Regional Force to help restore peace.
This week, the UN Security Council urged Sudan and South Sudan that they respect the demilitarisation of Abyei and evacuate their forces.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefing the Council on the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (Unisfa), whose mandate renewal will be considered by the UN Security Council next week, said the outbreak of armed conflict in Sudan in April interrupted encouraging signs of dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan earlier in 2023 and effectively put on hold the political process with regard to the final status of Abyei and border issues.
Read: Sudan fighting nears border with S.Sudan, UN warns
“The United Nations, in close coordination with the African Union, remains ready to support a resumption of dialogue and is monitoring the situation for the conditions that might allow for this,” said Jean-Pierre.
“The presence of approximately 200 South Sudan People’s Defence Forces and South Sudan National Police Service personnel in southern Abyei, and an estimated 60 Sudanese oil police in northern Abyei contradict Unisfa’s mandate and Abyei’s demilitarised and weapons-free status, resulting in restrictions on the Mission’s freedom of movement.” Jean-Pierre added.
President Salva Kiir who attended the 78th UN General Assembly Summit in New York, USA, for the first time in 10 years has however, appealed to the international community to push harder for peace in neighboring Sudan.
Five months of conflict has displaced more than five million people and sparked a humanitarian crisis along the border between the two countries.
While in New York in September, the South Sudanese President highlighted the political, humanitarian and security challenges facing the country since 2013.
“I am appealing to the international community to avail resources to help refugees and displaced persons who crossed into South Sudan,” Mr Kiir told world leaders attending the UN General Assembly’s annual debate.
“In order to conclude the transitional period peacefully through fair, transparent and credible elections in 2024, we have also engaged in dialogue and consultation with various stakeholders, including civil society, women, youth, traditional leaders, and opposition groups, to ensure that our peace process is owned and driven by our people,” Mr Kiir stated.
Back home, Kiir is grappling with insecurity, corruption and a divided government following his perennial rivalry with his First Vice President Riek Machar.
Read: S. Sudan transition stuck in mud of floods, politics
South Sudan’s economy is nearly entirely dependent on oil-revenue.
However, according to the US State Department 2023 Investment Climate Statements on South Sudan, the oil sector is fraught with corruption, mismanagement of resources, and lack of transparency.
The country’s oil-producing firms and the Ministry of Petroleum remain on the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) Entity List.
“South Sudan remains the most dangerous place in the world for humanitarian aid workers, with at least 10 humanitarian aid workers, contractors, and volunteers killed between January and March 24, 2023.” The US state department statement reads in part.
South Sudan is also facing persistent criticism from the EAC over its aloofness and unpaid dues to the regional bloc.
Early this year, the regional bloc branded the young nation as “the biggest defaulter” of remittances with arrears of at least 22 million dollars followed by Burundi at $5 million in arrears.
In January 2023, South Sudan lost UN voting rights over unpaid dues.
A section of South Sudan lawmakers in the East African Legislative Assembly says the country’s minister for East African Community and Affairs does not attend parliament.
South Sudan EAC Minister Deng Alor last attended a session of the EAC Council of Ministers meeting in 2020.
Read: EAC moving at a snail’s pace
Instead, President Kiir prefers the newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ambassador James Morgan on Monday to attend EAC meetings.
President Kiir takes over for the first time, the reins of a regional bloc still grappling with the same old problems of non-tariff barriers where intra trade has stagnated below 15 percent and the new burden of pacifying the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The 42nd Meeting of the Sectoral Council of Ministers on Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment (SCTIFI) that was held in June this year, at Arusha, Tanzania was informed that eight (8) NTBs remained outstanding and were at different levels of resolution.
The Ministerial Session of the 42nd SCTIFI that was chaired by Burundi’s Minister of Trade, Transport, Industry and Tourism, Hon. Marie Chantal Nijimbere, informed that South Sudan was still charging EAC citizens visa fees, specifically those from Rwanda and Burundi.
But in a response, South Sudan informed the meeting that South Sudanese are also still charged visa in some EAC Partner States.
Among the resolved NTBs that Kiir is likely to face is a 25percent excise duty imposed by Kenya on Ugandan table eggs and 25 percent Kenyan excise duty on onions, potatoes, potato crisps and chips from Uganda.
There is also unresolved import ban and denial of market access by Kenya through non-issuance of import permits for powdered milk from Uganda as a means of cushioning the surplus production and low producer prices in Kenya.
Another resolved NTB includes 13 roadblocks between Nimule and Juba thyat have seen Ugandan traders losing more than 150,000 South Sudanese pounds each early this year.
The EAC’s slow pace in the domestication and implementation of its own instruments adopted at the regional level is still weak and remains a challenge to be addressed.
Indeed, South Sudan is still unable to take full advantage of the EAC Customs Union (2015) and the Common market (2010).
Kiir is also expected to chair the ongoing challenges facing the implementation of both the Monetary Union and the political federation.
As chairperson, Kiir also faces the task of ensuring that the overlapping membership across the Regional Economic Communities (EAC, Comesa, Igad and SADC) does not derail the EAC integration agenda.