The East African Community (EAC) is arguably the best performing regional body in Africa and has brought together Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi with South Sudan showing great interest in being part of the federation. In the past few years, a lot has been achieved; a common market protocol, a move towards political and economic integration that would eliminate boarders and establish a single currency. As citizens of the region, we have been excited by the fast growth and are bracing ourselves for probably a new world of opportunity.
In the past few months, we have faced a big challenge where key players in the regional federation disagreed over certain pertinent issues. Tanzania and Burundi have particularly absconded from the last two meetings citing a plot to side-line them due to their unwillingness to be privy to certain protocols as fronted by the other club (Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda) who are in favour of a faster process. It is not the first time that the EAC has faced a risk of collapse; it collapsed once when leaders failed to agree in the past.
From a citizen’s perspective, I say that indeed the various parties probably have legitimate concerns but that should not stand in the way of such great opportunity that the regional integration presents. Our leaders must for once put their egos in a case and consider the interests of citizens as primary. Tanzania and Burundi citizens just as citizens from Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda all have a lot to gain from this regional integration. The job market has widened and having a coastline that stretches from Kenya to Tanzania will be the best news that can happen to us as East Africans; we can seize this to boost our economy, increase our bargaining power on the world market and open ourselves to vast opportunities abroad.
Africa and Africans must hold unto integration because it is the best chance we have at redeeming ourselves from a dependency syndrome that has more or less become a part of our culture. Strong unions like the USA and EU shall continue to bulldoze us if we do not set up our own bodies. Of course the purpose should not be for us to fight “them” but rather to work together in a “win-win” relationship where we have as much to offer as we take. The East African region is by far one of the richest regions in terms of natural resources and human resource; Uganda is in the process of mining oil, Tanzania has vast opportunities in Agriculture, Rwanda is developing an organized public service sector, Kenya is a hub for trade, Burundi is an emerging economy with various prospects and all countries have great tourism potential, hydro electricity production amidst other endowments. The recent growth in investment in the region is evidence the world recognises the potential that we have.
There is a possibility that after a full economic integration, the East African shilling will probably be the strongest single currency in Africa and this should generate enough motivation for the political leaders and citizens in the region. However, it is also reason for resistance from those that do not want to see us organized and independent. There is also a great advantage that the region has a single common language in form of “Swahili” which too will help in uniting the region, easing trade and enabling political integration.
Indeed, the challenges of the East African region are also many. Socially, the region is made up of the widest number of ethnic groupings each boasting of a strong attachment to their identity and culture, the political organization and systems are also different; Uganda has a leader who has been in power for over 27 years and the country’s constitution has no term limits to its presidency, Kenya has recently adopted a new constitution in which they have adopted an American style democracy, Rwanda is a strict organized political establishment boasting a by far most exemplary national leadership. All these are challenges that I deem will and are being considered by the leaders of these countries.
However, Civilisations, empires and regimes have been built from nothing but as East Africa, we already have a lot to boast of and therefore must harness faith in our regional integration because of the various prospects it presents. We must for once focus not on our challenges and differences but on the prospects and forge a way forward. Our political leaders must listen to the voices of their people and not their egos in deciding the future of our region.
I have spent the weekend in the Western Kenya Districts of Matungu and Mumias meeting a couple of youth groups discussing future prospects and projects we want to work on together as a single East African people. I have been to Rwanda and Kenya in the past few months and I cannot put in words the joy I feel at the easy immigration procedures I have to go through as compared those from other regions and countries. We have already started tasting the cake and God forbid if we let go of such a great opportunity. So, hold on East Africa, we need this!