This paper reviews and compares the condition of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) system in three countries in the East Africa region: Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. The criteria used for the evaluation and the comparison of each system are based on the elements of the legal, administrative and procedural frameworks, as well as the context in which they operate. These criteria are adapted from the evaluation and quality control criteria derived from a number of literature sources. The study reveals that the EIA systems of Kenya and Tanzania are at a similar stage in their development. The two countries, the first to introduce the EIA concept into their jurisdiction in this part of Africa, therefore have more experience than Rwanda in the practice of environmental impact assessment, where the legislation and process requires more time to mature both from the governmental and societal perspective. The analysis of the administrative and procedural frameworks highlights the weakness in the autonomy of the competent authority, in all three countries. Finally a major finding of this study is that the contextual set up i.e. the socio-economic and political situation plays an important role in the performance of an EIA system. The context in developing countries is very different from developed countries where the EIA concept originates. Interpreting EIA conditions in countries like Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania requires that the analysis for determining the effectiveness of their systems should be undertaken within a relevant framework, taking into account the specific requirements of those countries. (C) 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.