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South Sudan Gains Membership to E. African Community

  • Peter Clottey

FILE - South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, shown in January 2014, is "jubilant" after becoming a member of the East African Community (EAC) on March 2, 2016.

FILE - South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, shown in January 2014, is "jubilant" after becoming a member of the East African Community (EAC) on March 2, 2016.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir is excited about the socio-economic and bilateral prospects for his country after the world's newest nation officially became a member of the East African Community (EAC) on Wednesday.

South Sudan was voted into the economic bloc during a summit of regional heads of state in Arusha, Tanzania.

"The president is jubilant,” said presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny. “He is very happy that South Sudan has made it finally to the community of East Africa. … We don't have restrictions of movement and services between the East African Community [members] and South Sudan. So it is good that South Sudan has been admitted now officially."

South Sudan looks forward to strong bilateral relations with neighboring countries, Ateny says, as well as the enormous market that would be available for cross border businesses — which he says would be beneficial for citizens in the region.

Other member countries are Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda.

Critics skeptical of benefits

Some South Sudanese say it remains to be seen how the anticipated transitional unity government will take advantage of the country's new status as a member of the EAC. Kiir is expected to form a government with his rival, Riek Machar, following an agreement to end the country's civil war.

But Ateny expressed optimism about the prospects for trade and strong multilateral relations that would help to improve the life of South Sundanese.

"It's a very big market now so we are happy we would all be cooperating on trade, on even defense, on [combating] crimes,” Ateny said. “So there are a number of benefits that can come."

Critics say it is unlikely South Sudan can benefit from the market the EAC provides. They contend that the country's economy is largely dependent on oil and has yet to be expanded to other promising sectors, including agriculture. The country is currently in an economic crunch due to the sharp drop in the price of fuel.

But "South Sudan with its population of 12 million people, if it joins the market of more than 150 million, it can have more benefit than the negative," Ateny said.

South Sudan applied for EAC membership soon after gaining independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011.

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