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Opinion: East Africa getting it together

5 nations of East African Community are building a new economic and political union.

Only the new East African Community II, with its gradual knitting together of common arrangements since 2000, stands ready to launch Africa toward the goal aspired to by Nkrumah.

The East African Community promises to do for Africa what the European Coal and Steel Community, now the European Union, slowly has accomplished for Europe.

East Africa’s signal advance in this century was the addition to the core three countries of Burundi and Rwanda. That brought a new political vitality and drive to the existing troika.

Now that Preisdent Paul Kagame has been resoundingly re-elected in Rwanda, there will be added momentum to continue the forward movement that Kagame, among other presidents, has been demanding. Likewise, Kenya's successful referendum and its new constitution will ease cooperation among the five member states of the community.

That momentum may well result in extended rail and air developments to embrace the logistical and industrial needs of the former Belgian territories. In the distant future there is the possibility of bringing a reconfigured and workable Somalia into the new political entity. Discussions along the same lines with Malawi and Zambia are also in the offing. Together, there is no more potent instrument for positive change in the region and in Africa.

Despite the extraordinary progress in re-knitting and then expanding the community, anxieties and competitive jealousies remain.

Tanzania worries that avaricious Kenyans and Ugandans will use their new freedom to settle and open businesses behind common tariff walls to take economic opportunities from Tanzanians and grab their land as well, according to analysts in the region.

The original three members of the Community worry that the two new countries — both densely populated small countries — with their greater poverty, will absorb proportionally more community resources than is justified. Rwanda’s political role in the community is already disproportionally large, thanks to the assertive leadership of President Paul Kagame.

The East African Community, as it officially has been called since a treaty was ratified in 2000, consists of a summit in which the respective heads of state meeting periodically together; a Council of Ministers which is the main decision-making body; a Coordinating Committee of lesser officials; various sectoral committees charged with policy formulation; an East African Legislative Assembly with representatives from all five countries; and an East African Court of Justice to interpret and bring into conformity the laws of the community. The court may also assume an appeal s role for human rights cases. A secretariat runs the day to day affairs of the community.

The new East African Community may well prove to be the most successful regional body in Africa and a forerunner of a future United States of Africa.

Robert Rotberg was director of the Program on Intrastate Conflict, Harvard Kennedy School and president of the World Peace Foundation until mid-2010.