Multilateralism and Diplomacy: Focus on the East African Community

On the occasion of the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace celebrated on 24 April, the Secretary-General of ISC Member the International Peace Research Association (IPRA), Christine Atieno, shared insights on multilateralism and solidarity in the East African Community.

The various protocols under the UN Charter signed in 1945 reaffirm the principles of dispute resolution amongst countries and set the criteria for independent nations to observe and respect human rights as a fundamental element to international cooperation. Passed in December 2018 through resolution A/RES/73/127, the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy complements the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This combined tool reminds sovereign States that in order to attain amicable solutions to peace in times of conflict, International Law must be respected by all members of the United Nations, irrespective of global military index or economic power. The 144 signatories to the international instrument are obliged to adhere to it and enforce a culture of inclusivity whenever major decisions pertaining to international conflicts arise.

The continent of Africa, in its diversity and challenges, is no exception and celebrates this day through the multiple regional mechanisms in place to enhance social cohesion and peaceful coexistence amongst its people. The instruments in mention such as ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) in West Africa, SADC (Southern African Development Community) for southern parts of Africa, EAC (East African Community) in the East regional blocs, inter alia, are structures of cooperation between countries for collective growth. This blog narrows down on the EAC and highlights its game-changing effects in East Africa.

The East African Cooperation, founded in June 1967 against the backdrop of regional economic restructuring, post-colonization and threats to integration, was a tri-governmental organization – Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya – that encouraged intra-community prosperity. Unfortunately, the relationship disintegrated due to several political and economic disparities that saw the cooperation dissolved in 1977.

Fortunately, the spirit of solidarity which forms the core essence of multilateralism was never broken amongst East Africans. The rekindled vision of forefathers, Julius Nyerere (Tanzania), Milton Obote (Uganda) and Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), led to the re-establishment of the East African Community (EAC) and signing of the Treaty on 30 November 1999 in Arusha, Tanzania. It came into force in July 2000. Article [3] of the treaty highlights criteria to admit partner States into the community with the most recent joining in April 2022. EAC now comprises seven member states – Rwanda, South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In pursuit of socio-economic growth and development, multilateralism, in the context of the East African Community, is defined in its fundamental organs and institutions as mandated to streamline cross-border and diplomatic relationships amongst seven States. The effective cooperation outlined in the multiple protocols, including shifts in its balance of power, is guided by the principle of rotation whereby its leadership is appointed during the Summit. EAC’s nine semi-autonomous institutions complement the smooth running of affairs regionally. Peace and security are imperative and remain pivotal to the stability of each member State. As a symbol of multilateral cooperation, the Eastern Africa Standby Force was established as the defensive alliance to enhance regional integration.

EAC is driven by the collective principles of people-centered and multi-level participation, fundamental to these being peaceful co-existence, amongst others. The integration process of the seven member states has diversified opportunities for its citizens and expanded avenues of trade and continues to explore investments for locals and multinationals across the region. In addition, EAC member partners have set priorities to enhance participation in the global political arena for the benefit of the region. As a measure to de-escalate threats to peace and security, the partner States recently extended an olive branch to the several armed groups currently active in the region and violating human rights in communities, to engage in dialogue under the auspices of an EAC member country. The latest milestones from the multilateral engagements include initiatives between the African Union and the UN endorsing a new regional peace bid aimed at bringing armed groups to round-table talks with the DR Congo government for peace dialogue.

The symbiotic relationship amongst partner states of the East African Community continues to grow positively as more common grounds of cohesion, inclusion and solidarity are explored, debated and consensus reached. Amongst these, debates have been sparked by calls for fair trade through harmonizing taxes in the region.

Similar to other regions across Africa, the eastern part has not been exonerated from major civil strife, acts of terrorism, intra-communal conflicts and transnational organized crimes, amidst other social, political and economic mishaps. However, multilateral engagements through the lens of peace, security and development while respecting the acts of inclusion, cooperation and solidarity are in action. The seven partner States continuously hold talks to address the instabilities and explore growth across the region. Achievements made so far are massive, with cross-border trade expected to increase with more employment and investment opportunities for the youth unveiled.

The rising international challenges of isolationism and unilateralism remains a concern for peace researchers, and more so for associations such as IPRA. Countries of the world need to dialogue more with one another in the true spirit of co-responsibility. As an umbrella of scholars, researchers, and practitioners undertaking multiple disciplines, IPRA engages different stakeholders in debates on alternatives to war and conflict through advancing research into the conditions for peace. Global cooperation with other international governmental and non-governmental organizations has been pivotal for IPRA in executing its mandate. On marking the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy and in addition to having representation in the UN, the International Peace Research Association calls for collective and genuine internationalist approaches to achieving global peace and all UN members to observe their obligations under International Law and respectfully cooperate with one another on mutually equal grounds of humanity.

Christine Atieno

Christine Atieno is the Secretary-General of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) and the Africa Regional Focal Point and Chairperson for the South-South Network SSN, Africa. Christine is also the co-editor of Post-conflict Security, Peace and Development; Perspectives from Africa, Latin America, Europe and New Zealand (Springer 2019, Atieno and Robinson (Eds.) Vol. 13 on Environment, Security, Development and Peace-ESDP), and has been a guest speaker in many conferences and events over the past few years such as at the Fourth International Conference of Bengal Institute of Political Studies (BIPS), the International Webinar on ‘New Emerging Trends in Peace Studies, the 11th Biennial Conference on ‘Peace in Difficult Times: Challenges Europe and the World Face’, and the 6th International Sports and Peace Conference.

Header photo by Sunguk Kim on Unsplash.

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