The Horn Of Africa States: Is EAC Model A New Trap For African Wealth? – OpEd


The end goal of the EAC Africa Community is to become a united East Africa Federation. It is different from other African regional blocks, which though seeking cooperation among the member states in socio-economic development, do not infringe on the sovereignty of each member country, at least at present. We must first explore why the East Africa Community has been selected as an experiment for the continuing exploitation of Africa’s wealth while keeping the poor African poor.

The East Africa region, and now the more Central Africa Community has unique features which attract many of those who exploit the riches of the continent. It has the second deepest and largest freshwater lakes in the world, Lakes Tanganyika, and Victoria respectively. It has the highest peaks on the continent, Mount Kilimanjaro, and Mount Kenya. It enjoys the largest wildlife population on its savannahs, and it is the source of the longest river, the Nile, and the widest river, the Congo. The region has the second largest equatorial forest in the world after the Brazilian forest, the Congo basin. It has the Rwenzori or the Moon Mountains which are home to the largest gorilla populations in the world. The region also contains the Great East African Rift Valley, and the Serengeti Plains, and finally has access to two oceans, the Atlantic and the Indian.

The region is vast and comprises some 5.2 square kilometers and a generally poor population of some 300 million people, but the countries of the region are being herded together to form a new country that can be controlled from above through a small group of a bureaucracy to be created for the purpose of exploiting the enormous resources of this vast space in the African continent. Currently, it consists of seven countries, but they are also pushing to invite Somalia into the group, which can occur any time soon, adding some 30 million people to the population but also about 638,000 square Km of land surface and nearly a million square km of a maritime exclusive economic zone. This would make the region unique in the continent but exposed to exploitation by major corporations and powers of the world, whether the populations of the region like it or not.

What interests the major corporations and powers of the world in this region is the enormous wealth of the region, which includes among others, diamonds, gold, oil and gas, cobalt, nickel, copper, coltan/columbite, coal, iron ore, zinc and zirconium, bauxite, and others. It is, indeed, a blessed region. 

The region’s vast space is also endowed with all the attributes for food production, not only to feed its large population but also beyond the region. It is thus a region, which is not only rich for itself and its population but also for the world’s largest corporations and competing economic powers. Lately, there has been a Chinese entry into the market, which appears not to have pleased the old Euro-American exploiters of the region’s natural mineral wealth.

In the past, each of the countries that currently form the new EAC worked independently in the single-state format model for development, each pursuing its own path and hence negotiating with the foreign parties that needed the minerals in the region or its other wealth. Such trade was largely in favor of the foreign parties, which determined what they needed to pay for these resources as opposed to the needs of the producing countries. The Chinese approach to resource exploitation was and is on a different model, where the Chinese corporations pay for the minerals in the form of rail and roads, ports, and other infrastructures in the region and the African continent as opposed to the old groups, which preferred to keep Africa poor, disconnected and unable to transform itself through lack of proper infrastructures necessary for development.

Obviously, the formation of a new regional block at an accelerated pace as it appears must, therefore, be reviewed with care and reviewed with a new prism. In the past when Europe came to the region in the nineteenth century, the continent was divided into a multitude of countries, even though they had the same cultural base, language, and hence affinities. One can look at the North African colonies of France which included Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and even Mauritania. Should they have not ruled the region as one country instead of four countries? What about the Somali Peninsula, which was divided into five regions, which has been the pain of the region for the past hundred-some years or the Fulani-Hausa countries of Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and the Gambia? Why were there the countries of Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda? Shouldn’t have they not been one country? Perhaps at the time, the divide-and-rule policy was workable!

This is no longer possible, this divide-and-rule policy, and therefore control needs another format where vast spaces can be easily controlled through a slow-paced bureaucracy called a federation, which would always be, also a source of constant turmoil among the federated countries with respect to sharing of wealth, development priorities, and, indeed, powers and authorities, particularly when the components contains differing populations, which have been developing separately for so long.

Federating such a large number of countries would be a sword with two edges. On the one hand, it looks beneficial for the member countries as the collective bargaining involved would enable each country’s resources to be properly priced, the development of the economy executed through a common platform, and in particular, through infrastructures whose costs are enormous, but which could be shared. On the other hand, the bulky bureaucracy that would result in the federal infrastructure, would create easier control of the men and women at the top and hence indirectly the populations and resources of the region.

It is this worry, that prompts some to think differently and perhaps fear that this may be a trap for the region, where control of its wealth and population would be handled in the hands of a few individuals who may have interests elsewhere or are being pushed to serve others. Africa has enough experience in this regard. The acceleration of the process and invitation to countries like Somalia, which does not even have a constitution, a primordial marker of a failed state, causes one to pause. Strengthening regional cooperation and development may actually mean coming together to be controlled from one source. This would have implications on the development of each individual country and the parties it could have dealt with in the place of being railroaded to one particular path, one particular relationship, instead of a wider array of counterparts. 

The EAC is one region Somalia should be wary of and should not venture into, like it did into the Arab League, as it will result in the country being dumped into an ecosystem, that it hardly understands, and which may cause more pain not only for the country but also for the other members of the EAC region when they realize the real Somali challenges that would surely come instead of what they have bargained for. Somalia remains an uneasy lump that would be difficult to swallow.

Dr. Suleiman Walhad

Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at [email protected].

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