Showing no respect for the south’s supposed sphere of influence, north Sudan has applied to join East Africa’s regional economic community, a bold diplomatic gambit which the august institution doesn’t quite know how to handle. By SIMON ALLISON.
The East African Community, arguably Africa’s most effective regional body, has always been bullish about welcoming Sudan into the fold, with the presidents of Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda all saying they were looking forward to receiving its application for membership.
Only one problem: they were talking about the South, never dreaming that it would be Khartoum which asked to join first. But as South Sudan fiddles around with the location of its capital and the make-up of its cabinet, Sudan proper stole a diplomatic march on it by asking to be included in the EAC, which would grant it access to the bloc’s free trade area and visa-free travel between member states.
The request is an unwelcome distraction for EAC members, who met last week in Arusha, Tanzania. And they’re divided on how to handle it. Tanzania and Uganda are all for categorically rejecting Sudan’s application, citing Sudan’s abysmal record on human rights and its geographic distance from the rest of the bloc. Kenya and Burundi reportedly weren’t keen on Sudanese membership either, but are also mindful of the EAC’s need for expansion. Rwanda is the only member showing any enthusiasm, pointing out that while Sudan might bring political problems, it will also bring plenty of oil money.
In true diplomatic fashion, the discussion has been slated for further consideration. This might just give South Sudan enough time to submit its own application. The EAC is South Sudan’s natural diplomatic home, given its already extensive ties with Kenya and Uganda, Juba will be hoping it is the one place where it can be free from Khartoum’s pernicious influence. DM
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