There have been calls to revisit the treaty establishing the East African Community (EAC) from various corners across the region. The latest efforts came from a parliamentary committee in Kenya which proposed amending the treaty to grant veto powers to partner states that make the greatest financial contributions to the treaty’s implementation.
Can the EAC work better when some of its members have veto powers?
Some dictionaries define a veto as “a constitutional right to reject a decision or proposal made by a lawmaking body”. In other words, it means refusing assent to a proposal which could lead to its rejection or reconsideration. In some countries, a veto can be overcome or reversed through parliamentary action in which the majority of members override such a decision.
However, the most known veto, those granted to five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) cannot be overturned. A veto from any of these countries is absolute.
Ancient Rome gave its consuls and tribune of the plebs the powers to forbid certain actions.
UNSC members granted themselves veto powers as spoils of war over the rest of the world, powers which they have never relinquished ever since and each of these five permanent members have used a veto power at a certain time. The Council of the European Union grants its members veto powers over certain issues. In Africa, reflecting their own struggles for independence, the continental and regional bodies which came to be formed over the years opted for a consensus model of decision making.
From the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor to the African Union (AU) to regional bodies like the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the idea of a single member or group of members lording it over the rest within these bodies was seen as anathema. It reeked of colonial mentality.
In reality that has not prevented some of these countries to exert influence over the rest of the members. This, as a result of many factors some historical and other economic.
These institutions opted for a consensus model in their decision making.
The first attempt at the EAC collapsed, among other things, because of the difficulties in reaching consensus decisions on many issues. It is a fact that reaching consensus on regional matters requires time, which in turn slows down the progress on the regional project.
The EAC project is still a work in progress on so many fronts. Some of its members have never fully implemented various protocols to make it work better. Some of them take their time at the expense of other partner states in ratifying the agreements of the EAC.
This has led to resentments by other partner states on what they consider as stalling the EAC progress.
Some partner states have not paid their share of running the activities of the EAC. In some partner states, the project is still viewed suspiciously, or at the very least, not embraced wholly compared to the situation in other partner states.
Today, the EAC is a community of seven countries from the original three in 1999 or back in 1967. That, it is almost clocking quarter of a century in its second attempt at regional integration and attracting new members, is in itself a success story. Some of these countries joined because it was a ‘historical’ project. Others considered it a means to increase their influence in the region. Others thought it would open more opportunities to their economies and people.
It means these countries have different takes on the regional integration project which requires consensus to make it work. Granting or creating veto powers to some of its partner states on whatever criteria will create a two-tier membership organization in which some votes are more powerful than others.
The EAC treaty needs reforms but creating veto powers for some partner states will have a negative effect on the future of the regional project. It would create a class of some partner states who rule over the rest. The current model of consensus building in the decisions taken by the EAC ensures that all the voices within the community are heard and respected.
For the community to endure, the focus should be on the criteria used to admit new partner states. Financial muscle as the basis for decision making will send the regional project to another collapse.