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IDS Holds Seminar on “Integrating states or the people? Kenyans have not heard much of the proposed East African Federation”

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IDS Holds Seminar on “Integrating states or the people? Kenyans have not heard much of the proposed East African Federation”

The Institute for Development Studies on Thursday, 14th March 2024 held its weekly seminar series, themed “Integrating states or the people? Kenyans have not heard much of the proposed East African Federation” from 2pm-3.30pm EAT.

The presenter was Dr. Mercy Kaburu while the moderator was Prof. Paul Kamau of IDS. Dr. Mercy Kaburu is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the United States International University (USIU)-Africa. She holds a PhD in International Relations. She is a researcher, specializing in foreign policy analysis, regional integration in Africa, and women and politics in Africa. Dr. Kaburu has published journal articles and book chapters.

Prof. Kamau welcomed the participants on behalf of the Director, IDS, and invited Dr. Kaburu to make her presentation which was drawn from Afrobarometer data.

The paper’s abstract reads as below:

At its inception, the East African Community (EAC) adopted regional integration as one of its primary goals. The EAC Treaty recommends the adoption of incrementalism towards political, economic, and social integration through establishing customs union, common market, monetary union, and ultimately political federation. Though EAC envisioned an establishment of a confederation by 2023, a large majority of Kenyans (58%) have heard “nothing” or “very small amount” about the envisioned East African Federation. It is however notable that the majority of Kenyans (52%) “approve” or “strongly approve” the free movement of goods, services, and labor within the East African Community. While political representation should act as the genuine link between the people and the regional body, only 29% of Kenyans have heard “some” or “a great deal” of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), while a strong majority (68%) have heard “nothing” or “a small amount” about the legislative body. With EAC identified as the most integrated compared to other regional economic blocks, the 2021 data by Afrobarometer raises concerns about whether the integration is taking place at the state level while leaving out East Africans who are the primary agents and beneficiaries of sustainable East-Africanization.

Dr. Kaburu spoke said regional integration is so important for African states in reference to Agenda 2063, and it touches on people’s lives directly. So, does public opinion matter in regional integration? Conceptually, integration is a political process through which nation states in specific geographical spaces establish institutions and politically empower them to authoritatively exercise partial jurisdiction, and determine the allocation of shared resources. The process is aimed at establishing a set of laws creating common institutions. The objectives of integration include:

  • To promote economic, social, and cultural development and the integration of African economies towards economic self-reliance.
  • To establish a framework for the development, mobilization, and utilization of human and material resources.
  • To promote cooperation in all fields of human endeavor to raise the standard of living of African people.
  • To coordinate and harmonize policies among existing and future economic communities.

A study in 2019 (the Africa Regional Integration Index Report) ranked Kenya as the best-performing among the EAC partner states. The questions that were reflected on in this seminar are:

  • Do Kenyans approve of the integration process?
  • Are Kenyans aware of the EAC and related institutions?

The 2021 public opinion survey by Afrobarometer indicates that Kenyans have minimal knowledge of the EAC. The questions asked in the survey touched on:

  • Awareness of EAC (proposed political federation/confederation).
  • Free movement of goods, services, and labour.
  • Use of common currency.
  • Unitary government.
  • Means of electing EALA representatives.

The Afrobarometer data showed that 36 percent of respondents had heard “nothing” about the proposed EAC federation. 22% “a small amount”, 21% “some amount”, and 13% “a great deal”. In comparison, 58% of respondents said they knew “a small amount or nothing” about the EAC Federation in 2006, as well as in 2021. The approval for the free movement of goods, services, and labour stood at 52% in Kenya, 67% in Tanzania, 79% in Uganda, and 68% overall. Public approval for a unitary government stood at 44% in Kenya, 22% in Tanzania, 31% in Uganda, and 32% overall.

Why public opinion?

Public opinion helps identify citizens’ priorities.

Provides an independent evidence-based reality check on official statistics.

Helps understand citizen engagement and political participation.

Serves as a tool for assessing needs, setting policy priorities, targeting interventions, measuring achievements, and promoting or demanding accountability.


The presenter went on to explore if public opinion can be used to make integration more people-centred and sustainable.

Prof. Kamau made the following comment: Given that regional integration is a political process, mostly citizens are not involved in the process. So, now that the custom market was implemented in phases, has it only benefitted some countries? Why are some countries shy or threated by this integration?

He also asked if expanding the EAC is bringing unity or will cause divisions within the EAC, like the case of Somalia joining. What is the relationship between Somalia and Uganda, Somalia and Tanzania, etc., and how such relations can affect the greater EAC unity?

Other questions and comments included:

Raphael Otieno: Why is the approval of free movement of goods, services, and people high in some countries such as Uganda, are they benefitting more?

The presenter could have spoken to knowledge of other EAC institutions other than EALA.

Hongyu Yang: Do we have a breakdown by socioeconomic/regional/education statuses on the awareness of East African integration?

Gideon Wafula: sovereignty is exercised directly or indirectly. Democracy allows for direct action of citizens and representative democracy. When it comes to international engagement, delegated power is vested in institutions like the presidency and parliament. So the question would be, what kind of participation is feasible to give legitimacy to decisions in regional undertakings like EAC?

Hongyu Yang: Approval of free movement of goods, services, and labor can potentially be reflective of the lack of domestic economic opportunities, although the opposite can also be true as citizens might fear that free movements of labor might threaten local employment.

Chepkorir Sambu: My name is Chepkorir Sambu, a Researcher at the World Peace Foundation. This is an insightful discussion! Kindly let us know how we can access the recording.

Wanjiku Macharia: Thank you for presenting this topical issue. I hope you'll continue this discussion, addressing even how we are leveraging ACFTA.

Norbert Momanyi: What are the key lessons learned about the EU that can help mitigate challenges/problems relating to the EAST Africa Legislative Agenda, Free Movements and Public Opinion about the Integration? 

Dr. Kaburu responded to some questions, highlighting that the Afrobarometer questionnaire may not delve into all specifics but researchers are encouraged to take up issues of interest and conduct more research such as Key informant interviews. This view was shared by Yang, a participant, who opined that asking too in-depth questions in a large-scale survey might lead to higher attrition, which might introduce further bias.

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