As negotiations on whether South Sudan would join the East African Community reach an advanced stage, South Sudanese citizens are divided over the issue.
The East African reported that a High Level Mission from South Sudan visited the EAC headquarters in Arusha ahead of negotiations proper that were to start in early November. The delegation led by Aggrey Tisa Sabuni, the minister of finance, commerce, investment and economic planning was hosted by the secretary general of the East African Community Richard Sezibera.
South Sudan’s high level mission comprised of 10 ministers, the deputy speaker of the national Assembly, chairpersons of various committees of the Assembly, undersecretaries and director generals.
The joining of EAC is backed by a section of South Sudanese but others say it is still early to join the bloc. South Sudan seceded from the Sudan in 2011 and immediately applied for EAC membership.
“The process of joining EAC should begin now. We should join our brothers in whatever regional bloc. The whole world is moving into bigger blocs,” Alfred Taban, a political analyst in Juba said while appearing on Radio Miraya’s Breakfast Show. “The European Union (EU) was initially about a six-member bloc but now they are about 17.”
Taban argues that world over, countries are joining regional blocs to improve their economies and political survival.
“We cannot be left behind, we are now a nation yes; we should be joining these groups. It is for our own good,” said Taban.
However, Edmund Yakani, a civil society activist and Coordinator of Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) is one of those who believe it is too early for South Sudan to join the EAC, saying the demerits outweigh the merits at the moment.
“If we join the EAC, any member of the community can work in any member country without discrimination. How many South Sudanese can seek employment in the other countries and in terms of taxes, we are going to lose a lot because we are a very young economy,” said Yakani.
“The dividends of joining the EAC bloc are less than what we shall lose to it. We are going to create unemployment for our own people. This may raise xenophobia,” he said.
However, Taban argues that it is better to join the bloc now so that the people can compete and improve services for the people, arguing that even construction of oil pipelines and international roads require partnership with neighbouring community members.
Taban, however, calls for intensive sensitization of the public on the pros and cons of joining EAC, while Yakani calls for a referendum as it concerns the citizens more than the politicians.
Despite opposition from some disgruntled Ugandan business people who have filed a petition to block Juba’s bid, the new nation is expected to receive strong backing from Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda.
However, Ugandan businessmen have moved to court to block South Sudan from joining the East African Community, and the Secretary-General of the EAC now has 45 days within which to file a response.
Among other things, the Ugandan traders protest that while countries like Rwanda and Burundi that acceded to the EAC Treaty in 2007 were first subjected to rigorous tests and had had smooth trade relations with Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the same rigours are not being applied to South Sudan, which has a bad record of harassing and abusing nationals of other countries doing business within its borders.
Court papers allege that 24 Ugandans have been killed extra-judicially, mostly by officers and men of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army. The same army is also accused of forcibly confiscating merchandise and 21 vehicles. For these losses and others, the Uganda traders’ lobby claims that its 79 members are owed $14,875,421 before interest since 2009.
Exports from Kenya and Uganda to South Sudan have more than doubled in the past 10 years, and are currently valued at over $200 million and $180 million respectively annually. South Sudan has 85 per cent of Sudan’s oil output, estimated at about 520,000 barrels per day, which offers the EAC a unique opportunity to have Juba as a partner state.
Meanwhile, the EAC Secretariat announced that the first meeting of the EAC High Level Negotiations Team on the admission of the Republic of South Sudan will take place before the end of the year.
(Gurtong. Additional information by TCT)