Struggling To Stay In Orbit: Will Centrifugal Forces Eventually Force The EAC Into A Tailspin?

In this Greater Horn of East Africa (GHEA) Outlook, three trends are examined that at first do not seem connected. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been a victim of constant violence, corruption, wars and exploitation for many decades. There seems to be no end in sight to the conflict and instability that its citizens have long suffered. Today, it is at the center of gravity in the vortex of violence in the region. Three of the five East African Community (EAC) countries - Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda - are both directly and indirectly involved, with negative consequences that could potentially spiral out of control. The conditions for a Second Congo War could well be aligning, and in that event, the GHEA faces even greater destabilization, a huge humanitarian disaster and even deeper refugee crisis. It would certainly undermine the spirit of regional integration. 

This leads us to the second trend that this Outlook examines - signs of a widening fissure within the EAC itself. In a span of a few months, Tanzania, and to a lesser extent Burundi, have been perceived as isolating themselves from the broader EAC. What at first seemed to be media-fuelled 'snubs' took on more concrete dimensions during July and August 2013 with a series of public spats between the governments of Rwanda and Tanzania. The conflict in the DRC cannot be seen in isolation from the tensions that have emerged within the EAC between Tanzania and Rwanda. The pro-integration wing of the EAC has also expressed a more general sense of frustration with Tanzania, with the idea of political federation being picked up again in a regional summit that apparently excluded Tanzanian participation by design. Again, political instability and insecurity are poisoning a process of potentially welfare-improving regional integration.

Violence and instability can sometimes create unintended consequences and spark new ways of resilience, especially when the state cannot support its citizens. One such form of resilience is the creation and use of complementary and alternative currencies that could potentially support poor and vulnerable populations who are effectively shut out of the formal monetary economy. Complementary currencies could be one way of coping with economic marginalization if allowed to thrive. The Kenyan experience in this regard, albeit its apparent false start, suggest that there is nervousness within officialdom of these instruments. Will East Africa's governments encourage such innovations or frown upon them? Will they become useful allies in poverty reduction or just another experiment of dubious value? Only time will tell.  

Download SID Trend Monitoring Report: Will Centrifugal Forces Eventually Force The EAC Into A Tailspin?