East Africa enters the most decisive stage in its ambitious quest for a political union this week when the five heads of state launch the writing of a federal constitution and issue a time frame for establishment of a regional government.
Political integration, which is the top agenda for the 16th Ordinary EAC Heads of State Summit scheduled for November 30 in Nairobi, would pave the way for a strong authority to reinforce implementation of the other stages of integration — the Common Market, the Monetary Union and the Customs Union.
The presidents of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda are expected to make a final decision on what form political federation will take before the draft constitution is put in place.
The presidents of South Sudan and Somalia, who have applied to join EAC, will be watching the proceedings with interest.
Among the things that the EAC presidents are expected to decide on is whether the political federation is to be under a two-tier structure with a federal entity and constituent state governments or a one-tier structure.
Under a two-tier arrangement, the federation would have a leader, with partner states sharing foreign policy, defence, currency, and economic and trade policies, even as they manage those domestic affairs that do not have a regional dimension.
The best example of a two-tier system is the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which formed the United Republic of Tanzania. While Zanzibar has its own elected government, it has to operate under the Union government in terms of foreign policy and international relations.
A one-tier system would see all member countries come under one president, with uniform policies and all citizens to be involved in the election of the federal president.
During their last summit in Kampala last year, the EAC heads of state directed partner states to hold consultations and agree on the final draft of the roadmap before it is presented to the Summit this year for approval.
READ: Rules on governing EAC federation set
Early this year, EAC ministers were directed to initiate the process of drafting a constitution for the political federation ahead of the 2016 deadline.
A proposal by the ministers shows that the federal state will comprise an executive, legislature and judiciary, with functions based on the principle of separation of powers among the three organs. Constituent states of the federation will remain autonomous on matters that do not fall under the federal government.
The powers and functions proposed for the federal government will be informed by international practice: It will have control over defence and security, foreign affairs and international trade, immigration, infrastructure development and the federal public service, among other things.
The constituent states will be expected to implement federal laws and policies.