Since 2007, East African community member states had always argued that if they accessed the European market, their balance of payments would be impressively good.
The fast growing and ambitious trading bloc began courting the European Union to relax cumbersome legalities that prevented products of EAC member states from accessing the EU.
All the six EAC states; Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, South Sudan and Kenya badly wanted to trade with Europe but little did they know that at some point they would disagree at a later stage.
In September 2016, the EAC sent its delegation to Brussels – the seat of the European Union. This was the climax of negotiations that had started as early as 2007 and was supposed to end by signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Europe.
However, on that day, only Rwanda and Kenya appended their signatures to the EPA agreement which was intended to guarantee the EAC traders duty-and-quota free access to the EU market in exchange for a gradual opening of up to 80% of the region’s market to European products.
Before signing the deal, Rwanda had warned that the East African Community risked cracking if the agreement was not signed.
Uganda was still at crossroads after her colonial master Britain had pulled out of the EU. Britain and Uganda have historically deep ties so intertwined that Uganda needed to weigh this EPA move.
Burundi had just slid into a saddening political crisis and the EU had just slammed the East African state with heavy sanctions aimed at neutralizing President Pierre Nkurunziza who was seeking a contested third term.
Meanwhile, Tanzania had categorically indicated it was unwilling to sign the agreement with Europe saying it could stifle its economy.
But on October 31st 2016, a private person also Tanzanian citizen, Castro Pius Shirima, a law lecturer at Iringa University, lodged a civil suit in the EAC Court of Justice, seeking to stop the signing by EAC Member States of the EPA with the EU.
Shirima wanted Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda and South Sudan prevented from signing the EPA because of many risks it posed to the region’s economy.
He argued that “signing such an agreement by the second and third respondents (Kenya and Rwanda) had violated the letter and spirit of the EAC Treaty.
He also argued that If (the signing of the EPA was) not stayed, any further signature would allow ratification and regional application of the agreement, which would most likely displace EAC products from the market thereby undermining industrialization policy and tariff regimes.
As court proceedings went on back and forth, a decision was reached on 6th July 2017, the First Instance Division declined to grant the orders as sought by the Applicant which led the Applicant to the Appellate Division for appeal.
Grounds for Dismissing Appeal
On February 16th 2018, the East African Court of Justice dismissed the appeal by Castro Pius Shirima.
Before the session resumed court received a communication from the Appellant between him and his hotel to the effect that his agent was indisposed and will not be able to take up the hotel booking and that the copy of the communication be made available to the Appeals desk (Court) with the view that they can set another sitting day.
That the Doctor’s letter granting five (5) days bed rest was also attached.
Court further said that, with the attention of the Counsels for the Respondents on the said communication, all Counsel took a common position was not in a sense a proper communication for adjournment as it was not addressed to Court, neither to nor was it copied to the Respondents.
That they accordingly asked that the Appeal be dismissed under Rule 1(2) of the EACJ Rules of Procedure.
“We are persuaded by the Respondents argument that the Appellant’s conduct in seeking to communicate through the hotel is disrespectful attitude conduct in this Court as it amounts to the abuse to the Court process” Justice Ringera read.
In addition Court said that, “We are convinced that the Appellants conduct also manifests disrespect in the appeal” Court said. We accordingly grant the prayers of the Respondents and order that this Appeal be dismissed and costs awarded to the Respondents who attended Court.
These were Representative of the Attorneys General from the Republics of Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the Secretary General of the East African Community present in Court.
The Court also said that the matter was fixed on February 16th for scheduling and all the Parties were duly notified, but when the Court convened, the Appellant was absent and so was the Attorneys General of the Republic of Burundi, South Sudan and United Republic of Tanzania.
However, the Court had received an official communication from Burundi of their inability to appear.
The Respondents’ earlier arguments also were that, failure by the Appellant to address the adjournment request to the Court was un procedural and inappropriate hence taking Court for granted and disrespectful.
Further Counsels for the Respondents argued that failure by the Appellant to officially communicate to the Court and to the Individual States his request for adjournment shows lack of interest in the Appeal hence asked Court to dismiss it. Hence the appeal was dismissed.
Present in Court to receive the Ruling were the Representatives of the 2nd Respondent (Kenya) represented by Mr. Kepha Onyiso Senior, Principal State Counsel, with Ms. Jenifer Gitiri, Senior State Counsel, Mr. Karemera George with Ms. Kabibi Specioza both Senior State Attorneys 3rd Respondent,(Rwanda), Mr. Elisha Bafirawara, Principal State Attorney with Ms. Cheptoris Sylvia state Attorney & Akello Suzan Apita bothe State Attorneys for the 6th Respondent (Uganda) and the 7thRespondent Secretary General represented by Ms. Florence Ochago Principal Legal Officer with Mr. Denis Kibirige Principal Legislative Draftsman.
The Republics of Burundi (1st Respondent), South Sudan (4th Respondent) and the United Republic of Tanzania (5th Respondent) were not represented in Court.
The order of the Court was read by Hon. Justice Aaron Ringera with other Honourable Justices of the Appellate Division in open Court.