THE 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, with citizens now well ahead of their national governments in as far as the integration process is 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.
The Acting CJ 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 formation of the first East African Community that 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.
Justice Butera 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. Justice Butera 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 it can handle disputes pitting nationals of various partner States.
He noted that disputes should be filed in the lowest courts available before taking them 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 harmonisation 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.
He said that the volume of work in the 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.
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), 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 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.