This November 2019, the East African Community will be celebrating 20 years of existence. 30th November 1999 is the day Presidents’ Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda, Benjamin Mkapa then of Tanzania and Daniel Arap Moi then of Kenya signed the East African Treaty. Rwanda and Burundi have since joined as has the Republic of South Sudan.
Article 5(2) of the Treaty for Establishment of the East African Community (“EAC”) provides that the community is anchored on four pillars namely, The Customs Union (to treat goods coming from each partner state favourably), The Common Market (that people, goods and services can move freely across borders for example any EAC Citizen can move from their country and set up a business in another member state), The Monetary Union (this includes using one common currency like the Euro in the European Union) and ultimately Political Federation (a politically united East Africa).
The goal of political federation is a unique one as all around the world all the unions like the Southern Africa Development Community (“SADC”), European Union (“EU”), Association of South East Asian Nations (“ASEAN”), The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (“COMESA”) you name it are purely economic and trade blocs. And yet the Presidents of the EAC especially the Ugandan President, His Excellency Y.K. Museveni insist that political integration is essential for the survival of Africa in the coming years. According to him, Africans failed to resist the colonial rule not because of lack of courage or the will to resist but on account of political balkanization. To him, it is the same reason Africa is still weak today. His thinking is that political integration of Africa would mean prosperity, strategic security and fraternity. “I would not die of blood pressure if the present 54 States of Africa, the former colonies, were replaced by 10 or so states, each about the size of India,”. This ideology was set out in His Paper “Why we must integrate” which was delivered during the 32nd Ordinary Summit of the African Union Heads of State held from 11th to 12th February 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
When you consider how hard it has been for Britain to exit the European Union, even after voting in a referendum that they wanted to leave, one is left with no doubt that they just cannot bear to part with some of the benefits of being part of the bloc. Perhaps it is about time we thought closely about uniting as East Africans and later as Africans, after all, we pretty much are one in terms of language and ethnicity. Consider the case of the famous Awori family, separated only by borders, the Ugandan Hon. Aggrey Siroyi Awori, a Harvard University graduate is a former member of the Ugandan Parliament, Minister and presidential candidate while the Kenyan Awori, precisely Arthur Moody Awori was once the Vice President of the Republic of Kenya.
There are actually so many benefits that can be derived for the ordinary person if the EAC is given a chance. We are already benefiting from the cases decided by the East African Court of Justice, the One Stop Border Posts, the East African passports, cross border travel and trade to mention but a few. However for the EAC to work, and for economic and political integration to become more than just a fairy tale, a lot has got to be done. Most important of all, the ordinary East African person (“omuntu wawansi” as commonly said by Ugandans) needs to be sold the dream. Hon. George S. Odongo, Member of Parliament East African Legislative Assembly and Chairperson of the Uganda Chapter EALA agrees with this position entirely. In his address to the Rotary Club of Najjera on 5th September 2019, stated that “The EAC has concentrated on the states and not the people. It is government led and not people driven. For as long as it is seen as a community driven by elites and the political leaders, someone with an idea like Brexit will divide the community.” “Is it any wonder that the report on the survey that was conducted among member states asking whether people appreciate their country being part of the EAC revealed that 95% of Rwandans are inclined to the EAC, 75% of Ugandans are inclined, 24% of Tanzanians are inclined and 65% of Kenyans are inclined”. Clearly some countries feel that the EAC would be more of a threat than a benefit and the people an enemy rather than a brother, this has been shown in their voting and deliberate delay and refusal to implement the EAC policies agreed upon like the cross border travel and free movement of people, goods and services. As a person who has studied in two East African countries, I can attest to this and I agree with the Honourable Member of Parliament entirely.
After all is said and done, congratulations to the EAC upon making 20 years since the reunion. May the next years be ones of great revival, change and achievement and not just in paper like the many good protocols passed by the EAC Legislative Assembly however not ratified. May the EAC benefits become more meaningful and beneficial in the lives of the ordinary citizens of the member states and beyond.
What do you think? Is it “Integrate or Die” or are we better off staying the way we are?