East African Community members
“Trust is a serious issue between EAC member states. We have seen these countries in serious wrangles coming out of security interests. First it was Uganda and Rwanda after Congo War Two, but they managed to resolve their differences. Now it is between Rwanda and Tanzania and it has not been resolved.” Stanislaus Kigosi, Diplomacy Analyst.
Talks are at an advanced stage to establish the East African Community (EAC) Security Council, which will be charged with ensuring that peace prevails in the region,The Citizen on Saturday has learnt.
All five EAC member states–Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi–currently face security threats, with terrorism topping the list. Kenya has borne the brunt of terrorist attacks from Al Shabaab since it sent troops to assist the Somali government in late 2011. The attacks have left hundreds dead and many others injured. Grenades have been hurled into commuter buses, churches have been raided and a big shopping mall was under siege for three days in that country.
Tanzania has also suffered its share of attacks, especially in the tourist hubs of Zanzibar and Arusha. Two blasts rocked Arusha last month alone. In the first attack, a hand grenade was thrown into a residential house in Majengo area and seriously injured two Muslim clerics who were having a pre-fast Ramadhan meal. In the second attack, by an improvised explosive device, eight people were injured at an Asian restaurant near Gymkhana grounds. In 2008 Tanzania suffered the first major terrorist attack when the US embassy was bombed.
In an interview with this paper yesterday, the deputy minister for East Africa Cooperation, Dr Abdullah Saadalla, confirmed the development and said the security council would make it possible to share information on peace and security matters and also boost peace and security.
Dr Saadalla added: “Yes, we have started talks on establishing a security council. This body will act like the United Nations’ Security Council. It will generally be charged with the responsibility of ensuring that our region remains peaceful and secure.”
The council will also deal with matters such as management of refugee affairs and immigration. But the minister distanced Tanzania from media reports that there was a plan to establish a regional security force. “We in East Africa have not engaged in such talks,” he explained. “Anyone who suggests such a thing must have another basis for forming such a force… we have no plan to do so.”
But, according to Dr Kitojo Wetengere of the Mozambique-Tanzania Centre for International Co-operation, setting up an East African Security Council will help member states address regional security collectively. He argues that the entire region is not safe as long as any of its member states is targeted by terrorists or experiences insecurity.
“First, each member state should take care of its internal security,” he added. “But, most importantly, you need a body which will take care of the regional community, so the move is laudable.”
The don was quick to caution, though, that the proposed security council should be based on fairness for all member states. He added: “We don’t need a security council like that of the United Nations, which has treated its members unfairly. Remember the UN council has turned a blind eye to what is going on in Syria, but it was quick to act in similar conflicts in Iraq and Libya.”
Diplomacy analyst Stanislaus Kigosi, welcomed the move and said it should have come earlier. He pointed out the challenges and warned that if they are not resolved now, it will not achieve its goals. He added: “Trust is a serious issue between EAC member states. We have seen these countries in serious wrangles coming out of security interests. First it was Uganda and Rwanda after Congo War Two, but they managed to resolve their differences. Now it is between Rwanda and Tanzania and it has not been resolved.”
In such situations, the agency might be used by wrangling member states to spy on each other rather than share vital information. Citizens of member states must also be well informed about the threats and how a regional body can help deal with them. These issues are now discussed at top level, but the people must understand the process and back it with their trust.
But city-based political analyst Erick Mwakibete, questions what the mandate of the agency would be in relation to other structures of the EAC. “The summit of head of states is the highest organ now,” he asserted. “Will the proposed Security Council have more say than it? That’s how the UN Security Council operates. Its resolutions are final and very powerful.”
He cautioned that if the new agency is not well organised and empowered, it might end up being another toothless agency in the community. He also questioned the scope and future of the EAC.
“If the goal is to form a political federation, then what is the place of the security council?” he added. “We must have plans that concur with our set targets for the integration process to become a success story.”