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Act fast: Acting Chief Justice Butera urges EAC Partner States to fast-track the formation of the proposed EAC Political Federation

East African Community (EAC) Partner States have been urged to expedite the formation of the proposed Political Confederation for the region.  

Uganda’s Acting Chief Justice Richard Butera said that East Africans had always lived together and would not wait for the Partner States to establish the confederation in order to continue with their interactions, adding that the citizens were well ahead of their national governments in as far as the integration process was concerned. 

“East Africans want to live together irrespective of national boundaries. The governments should therefore endeavour to catch up with them and actualise the Political Confederation as fast as possible,” said Justice Butera. 

Butera noted that the idea of a federation was conceived soon after independence in the early 1960s by the founding fathers of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda culminating into the first East African Community which collapsed in 1977. He said that the ongoing expansion of the Community would be an asset for the people of East Africa and Africa as a whole. 

He was speaking at the Uganda High Court premises in Kampala when he received the Committee of Experts tasked with drafting the Constitution for the proposed EAC Political Confederation. The committee, which is chaired by Uganda’s retired Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki, is currently collecting views from stakeholders and opinion leaders in Uganda through national consultative forums.  

He was of the view that the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) should be elevated to a court of first choice in cases involving litigants with different nationalities. 

“People will have disputes as long as they continue working together. Foreigners may have a feeling of alienation and bias over judgements delivered by national courts. The regional court could handle such cases better,” said the Acting CJ, adding that the EACJ’s mandate should be enhanced so that can handle disputes pitting nationals of various Partner States. 

He said disputes should be filed in the lowest courts available and get gradually to appeal courts. He expressed concern that some litigants were filing fresh cases at the EACJ, a situation he said may not solve the region’s problems. 

In his remarks, Justice Mike Chibita of the Supreme Court of Uganda, singled out potential bottlenecks that ought to be addressed as the EAC moves towards a confederation. Justice Chibita said that there should be hamornisation of hierarchies in the judicial system pointing out that under the old EAC, each Partner State had high courts only as the apex judicial organ with all appeals being filed before the East African Court of Appeal. 

Justice Chibita further said that the volume of work in high court in Uganda was already too much and that even the Court of Appeal was overwhelmed with a deluge of appeals. 

Justice Chibita further singled out the conflict of laws in the Partner States as another bottleneck and cited the death penalty with Uganda prescribing the death penalty for persons found guilty of defilement.  

Commenting on the high volume of cases before the Ugandan courts, Justice Butera said that the situation had been occasioned by the fact that every litigant could appeal judgements.  

“The US Supreme Court has a sieving system for cases that can be placed before it. We should explore this option for our national courts as well as the East African Court of Justice,” said the Acting CJ.   

Addressing the judicial officers, Justice Odoki said that the political confederation was meant to strengthen the integration process and stimulate efforts to unite the region.  

“The Confederation is aimed at ironing out some of the challenges that we are facing at the moment. For instance, it would be better for judges of the East African Court of Justice to be permanently resident in Arusha to serve EAC citizens better,” said the retired CJ.  

On his part, Senator Amos Wako (Busia, Kenya), said urged litigants to exhaust judicial mechanisms in lower courts before proceeding to higher courts including the appeal and supreme courts. 

Senator Wako said that the now defunct East African Court of Appeal was the appellate court for all matters except issues of interpretation of the national constitution. Wako, who is also a former Kenyan Attorney General, said that the focus of EACJ had been mainly on human rights issues, adding that this was due to the jurisdiction defined by the Treaty for the Establishment of the EAC.  

The Acting CJ informed the committee of experts that the Judiciary in Uganda would give its comprehensive views in a memorandum after a period of two weeks, which request was accepted by the committee. 

Justice Odoki informed the participants that the team of experts was appointed by the Summit of EAC Heads of State in 2018 to carry out consultations and propose a model constitution for the EAC confederation. 

The Chairperson further said the confederation was a slight change of policy by the Community which had been occasioned by many factors among them fears of constitutional differences among Partner States, varied levels of economic development and mixed progress in the implementation of the Customs Union, Common Market and Monetary Union. 

The 14-day consultations in Uganda has seen the committee of constitutional experts for Drafting the EAC Political Federation Constitution hold consultations with civil society, local leaders, opinion leaders and the business community among other stakeholders to seek their views on what kind of a Political Confederation they would desire for the EAC. 

Apart from Kampala, the team of experts has so far held consultations with a cross-section of stakeholders in Entebbe, Arua, Gulu, Mbale and Kabale. The experts are expected to engage the Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda on Monday evening.  

The Political Federation is the ultimate pillar in the EAC integration process, being preceded by the Customs Union, Common Market and Monetary Union in that order.  

The Summit of EAC Heads of State in May 2017 adopted a Political Confederation as the transitional model to the Political Federation. The Team of Experts was appointed by the Summit in February 2018 and is chaired by Justice Benjamin Odoki, retired Chief Justice of Uganda. Justice Odoki is deputised by Busia (Kenya) Senator Amos Wako, who is also a former Kenyan Attorney General. 

The objectives of the National Consultations for the EAC Political Confederation are threefold:  Enhance awareness on the ongoing Constitution-making process for transforming the EAC into a Political Confederation; obtain stakeholders’ views on their interests and key issues to inform the drafting of model Confederation and subsequently a Confederal Constitution in line with the principle of people-centred regional community, and prepare the public in general to give their inputs into the draft Constitution once it will be drafted.

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