The decision to admit South Sudan as the sixth member of the East African Community is one of the most “historic” by the EAC Heads of State Summit, Amb. Valentine Rugwabiza, the minister for EAC affairs has said.
Rugwabiza was Tuesday briefing journalists in Kigali after last week’s events at the seventeenth Ordinary Heads of State Summit in Arusha, Tanzania, at which South Sudan was admitted to the Community after more than three years of negotiations.
The minister, however, explained that the country will need some capacity building to be able to implement all the requisite membership instruments.
“There are some provisions that were part of their admission. These provisions do not appear in the communiqué. However, there was some flexibility provided to the Republic of South Sudan, and the reasons for that flexibility was to give them time and to also let them acquire enough capacity to be able to implement programmes and provisions of the EAC Treaty,” Rugwabiza said.
She said Juba was provided with a transition period of three years before implementing the Customs Union.
“We did recognise that they don’t have sufficient capacity to do that now. On the other hand, we need to think, as Rwandans, within those three years, the Republic of South Sudan will adopt exactly the same common external tariff which will make it much easier (to trade). It gives sufficient time to both our industries and societies to get prepared,” the minister said.
South Sudan was also allowed three years to work on the implementation of the Common Market Protocol.
Noting that South Sudan’s admission to EAC is good news to Rwanda and the entire bloc, the minister said both countries were already cooperating bilaterally and in the context of the northern corridor integration projects.
“The Republic of South Sudan has also expressed clearly that they expect Rwanda to help them build the capacity that they need to implement all these EAC programmes, and this is not just a mere wish. We are already working at putting the programmes together towards building that capacity,” Rugwabiza said.
The first session of building such capacity, the minister said, will convene when a delegation from Juba arrives in Kigali in less than three months time.
South Sudan applied to join the EAC on June 10, 2011, soon after gaining independence from Sudan.
The admission of Africa’s youngest nation to the EAC implies that the bloc’s market size is now 162 million people from the previous 145.5 million.
Juba’s bid to join the Community suffered a setback following the mid December 2013 outbreak of a civil war pitting forces loyal to previously sacked – and now reinstated – Vice-President Riek Machar against those supporting President Salva Kiir Mayardit.
The country seceded from Sudan in 2011 but the ensuing political unrest between government forces and Machar’s rebellion greatly affected it.
Kiir recently reappointed Machar as vice president in a move to restore peace and resolve the country’s deepening economic crisis, but it still remains to be seen whether the lull will be sustainable.
According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), prior to the outbreak of conflict in December 2013, South Sudan had positive development prospects. Although rich in natural resources, the economy largely depends on oil production and subsistence agriculture. Almost all intermediate and consumer goods are imported.
South Sudan’s economy is one of the world’s weakest and most underdeveloped nation due to decades of war, but the country is rich in agricultural land and has one of the largest populations of pastoralists in the world.
A country economic outlook profile by the AfDB states that: “The government is faced with challenges that complicate fiscal management. Oil revenue inflows, accounting for over 95 per cent of government revenues, are volatile and unpredictable. The situation has put more pressure on foreign reserves.
“Non-oil revenue is not expected to significantly increase in the short term. South Sudan has enormous opportunities for spatial inclusion. While the impact of ongoing conflict and international oil prices cannot be underestimated, opportunities to develop value chains that create jobs and improve household incomes exist.”