News that civil society organisations and scholars in the region are expressing their frustration at the failure on the part of our rulers to advance the agenda of integration must be amplified by all of us who have for long yearned for closer co-operation among our people.
In a symposium held in Arusha a week ago, these would-be citizens of East Africa said they were disappointed by the pace of the region’s movement toward greater economic and political ties which would not only aid our people to realise better economic and commercial benefits but also make the dream of political unity a tangible aspiration.
A couple of the academics who made part of the gathering at Arusha bewailed the fact that the Community was clearly led by the rulers — they called them “leaders” — rather than by the people of their countries, as it had been hoped when the new Community was established in 1999.
After the EAC had laid hibernating from 1977, the rebirth of the regional bloc in 1999 was accompanied by speeches and statements that made us believe that the destructive politics of the 1970s would be a thing of the past and would not be allowed to rear its ugly head again as it did in the past and had destroyed a productive and potentially prosperous outfit that had served us well.
The devil back then had been the difficult relations between Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Uganda’s Idi Amin who ousted Milton Obote, on the one hand, and on the other, the machinations of Nairobi’s merchant class that saw the collapse of the EAC as an opportunity to grab lucrative pickings offered by successor businesses.
In the fullness of time, our rulers saw their folly and recommitted to the lofty ideals of yore, only this time declaring that henceforth they would allow the citizens to take the lead in the affairs of the Community, instead of keeping it as a sterile trade union for the heads of state.
It is this new enthusiasm that fired our imagination, and soon we felt we were vibrant enough to expand our fold to take in Burundi and Rwanda, and thereafter, South Sudan. Our neighbours in Congo, and even Ethiopia, also started seeing we were good, and thought it was a great idea to join in and play. We also seemed ready to receive more adherents to the EAC, probably thinking “the more the merrier?”
But now it does look like the new Community has run out of steam. Reports from Arusha suggest that the financial situation has so badly deteriorated that staff cannot be assured of their pay, apart from inability of the EAC secretariat to fund its crucial programmes.
Long used to handouts from the so-called development partners such as Germany, the Community has apparently refused to outgrow its infantile dependency on foreign aid to carry out its most basic mandates. Now it looks like its activities may be grounding to a halt and may soon be forced to close shop.
It all comes down to political will. Our rulers’ actions simply do not add up. It is something a serious mind would not countenance.
If these people are truly in earnest about the EAC as something they set up out of their own volition, how can they seriously lack money for their annual contributions when we know how wasteful they are in other areas?
It is high time they took note that we, their subjects, are watching with increasing exasperation as they continue to pass the begging bowl before the Germans and other donors while their people’s hard-earned money is burnt up on the altar of greed and profligacy.
In the meantime, our rulers do not even have the body language of people who are determined to bring us together.
When Tanzania confiscated thousands of day-old chicks from Kenya and burnt them, some of us feared for an all-out economic war between the two countries. But when Kenyan authorities came across gold stolen from Tanzania, it was the Kenyan head of state himself who travelled to Tanzania to hand the bullion personally over to the Tanzanian president, a surprising gesture.
Let us hope that the Kenyan leader’s noble example will inspire similar actions and thoughts about our neighbours, and that the East African Community will grow into a veritable powerhouse on the African continent.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]