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COVID-19: Implications on the EAC Regional Economic Community

ANALYSIS Dr. Daniel Shayo 04 November 2020

On the 11th March 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic. Consequently, governments worldwide were urged to adopt safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus. The measures adopted varied from banning of public and social gatherings; leading to, among others, closure of learning institutions, worship places, bars, hotels and restaurants, closure of borders and national-wide lockdowns and curfews.  Although these measures have had a good motive of protecting health and lives of the people, some of them have negative effects on the rights of the same people.

Like in many areas, the effects of the pandemic have also been felt in the area of regional economic integration. In particular, it may be observed that COVID-19 pandemic, brought two notable challenges to Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in general. On one hand, it has tested the ability of RECs to respond to pandemics. In the EAC region, the provisions in the EAC on commitment by partner states to collaborate in prevention and control of epidemics (Art. 118 (a) of the EAC Treaty) has been put to this test. On the other hand, measures adopted to deal with COVID-19 directly encroach the rights and freedoms protected under the various RECs’ policy and legal instruments. The cherished freedoms of movement of persons, goods, services and capital are automatically diluted on the face of measures adopted by member states to deal with the pandemic (see Articles 6, 7, 13, 16 and 24 of EAC Common Market Protocol).  In these circumstances there is a glaring duty on the EAC partner states to strike the right balance between the motives of protecting people and health, with the adherence to the principles set out in various policy and legal instruments governing the Community.

Solidarity vs. Individualism

The challenges brought by COVID-19 are by and large against the core goals of the EAC. Thus, while the EAC advocates for grouping of states and cooperation or working together, COVID-19 calls for individualization, confinement and distancing. COVID-19 has necessitated the closure of borders, disruption of supply chains and the fall of regional economic activity. Closure of borders is a counter effort of regional integration because it leads to separation of partner states.

Furthermore, since COVID-19, in this sense, is a regional problem, it requires a coordinated regional solution because of the dangers posed by measures taken by individual partner states on the continued existence of the EAC. It is from this angle that the decision of the EAC partner states of April 2020 requiring that the main response should come from partner states level has been criticized. This decision was considered to challenge the spirit of integration.

COVID-19 is a wake up call for realization and sharpening of the policy and legal instruments of the EAC on the fight against pandemic diseases. COVID-19 has tested the effectiveness and ability of the existing EAC policy and legal instruments in dealing with pandemic diseases. Like in many other RECs the regulatory frameworks of the EAC have proved to be inadequate or simply ineffective in dealing with COVID-19. At the same time COVID-19 provides an occasion to put into action provisions available in the EAC legal instruments for cooperation by partner states in matters of research in science and technology, health and trade.  Collaborative research on prevention and treatment of pandemic diseases should be prioritized. It has been argued that the world may need to boost regionalization and regional economic integration in order to meet the changes brought by COVID-19. On launching the continental strategy on COVID-19 on 20.02.2020 the Chairperson of the African Union’s Commission stated that “the pandemic should serve as a hymn, an anthem for multilateralism and solidarity.”

New Strategies and Policies

The advent of COVID-19 has challenged the EAC to come up with common strategies, policies and plans to defray the economic impacts of pandemics on individual partner states. The loss of human resources due to death and sickness, the closure of business, the decline in supply of raw materials, the poor access to markets for goods, as well as costs associated with testing of COVID-19 require collective efforts. Likewise, the COVID-19 crisis requires the EAC partner states to mobilize and coordinate both material and human resources in order to be able to deal with various challenges, which come with it.

The dependence on locally produced goods and less dependence on imported goods is another effect which comes with COVID-19. Notably, even with the restrictions in place, the EAC partner states have a greater dependence on the goods imported from within the region than those produced outside the region. In other words regional economic integration is viewed as a way out of the challenges of COVID-19. Alongside this line of thought, the meeting of the EAC’s Heads of state of Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan in May 2020 directed, inter-alia, that partner states should prioritize regional value supply chains to support local production of essential medical products and supplies, including masks, sanitizers, soaps, coveralls, face shields, processed foods, ventilators as part of efforts to combat COVID-19 in the region. Furthermore partner states were urged to facilitate farmers, agro-processing and establishment of special purpose financing schemes for small and medium enterprises, to cushion them from the negative effects of the pandemic.

Importance of Collective Measures

Short term impacts of COVID-19 on the EAC include impaired logistics and misunderstanding among partner states. During the pandemic following the closure of borders between partner states only cargo trucks are allowed to cross the border after the drivers have been tested of COVID-19. This has led to wastage of time at the border and difficulties in obtaining supplies. Furthermore, the dissociated response of partner states to COVID-19 has led to misunderstandings in the EAC region. In particular, there have been tensions between Tanzania and the other partner states due to the fact that Tanzania has taken a different route in dealing with the pandemic. Tanzania did not impose any lockdown or curfew as measures of combating the spread of the virus. Also, Tanzania did not attend the meetings in which common solutions in dealing with the pandemic were discussed.

Finally, it is observed here that although the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the regional economic integration in East Africa in various ways, the impacts explained in this article are just a tip of an iceberg. COVID-19 implies that the EAC must improve its capacity to deal with the impacts of pandemics by revising the existing regional policy and legal frameworks with a view of addressing the challenges brought by epidemics. This means, that the EAC partner states need to collaborate more in dealing with pandemics. Leaving the matter at the partner state alone and ignoring the common regional efforts in this fight has negative implications on the EAC regional integration.

Dr. Daniel Shayo is the Head of the Economic Law Department at the University of Dar es Salaam School of Law. Since 2017 he is the Coordinator of a co-operation project, integrated into the Tanzanian-German Centre for Eastern African Legal Studies, of the University of Bayreuth and the University of Dar es Salaam.

By Dr Daniel Shayo

Dr Daniel Shayo is the Head of the Economic Law Department at the University of Dar es Salaam School of Law. Since 2017 he is the Coordinator of a co-operation project, integrated into the Tanzanian-German Centre for Eastern African Legal Studies, of the University of Bayreuth and the University of Dar es Salaam.

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