EA integration: The way forward still uncertain

EA integration: The way forward still uncertain

The five-member EAC-II was reestablished by Treaty on Nov. 30, 1999, nearly a generation after its predecessor, EAC-I, ignominiously collapsed on June 30, 1977. If the latest effort were to collapse today, it’d at the very least have one positive in its favour: it would have lasted longer than the ten years its three-member countries predecessor, EAC-I, lasted: 1967-77.

Reportedly, the Kenya Attorney-General of the time, Charles Njonjo, toasted the break-up with champagne. This didn’t go down well with Tanzania. Both countries had for long engaged in slanging matches with each other. Uganda watched the melodrama from the sidelines — what with Ugandans having to cope with the antics of their president, Iddi Amin, self-styled Field Marshall; Last King of Scotland; Conqueror of the British Empire and Cock of the Walk!

The antagonism was largely rooted in the different econo-political ideologies the two were pursuing: neo-Capitalism in Kenya (‘Man-eat-Man Society’), and pseudo-Socialism for Tanzania (‘Man-eat-Nothing Society)! Perhaps ‘egged on by its status’ as the biggest and fastest-growing economy at the time, Kenya demanded bigger representation in the Community’s decision-making organs. This raised hackles, heightening anxiety in the Governments in Kampala and Dar.

To compound the ‘Mkorogo,’ the mess, Tanzania President Julius Nyerere didn't see eye-to-eye with his fellow EAC Head, Uganda’s Amin (1971-79). This made an already bad situation worse, thereby speeding what was one of the more exemplary regional integration models on its way to the rocks of poor personal-cum-political interrelationships.

In the event, on June 30, 1977, the three countries lost most of the gains they’d achieved in 60 years of cooperation beginning in the early 1900s. They each went their own way the best they could, salvaging what little prestige, pride and assets they’d shared tenuous relationships. It took more than 22 years for East Africans – or, perhaps more accurately: their political leaders – to scramble back onto the integration bandwagon via EAC-II in late 1999.

In due course of time and events, Rwanda and Burundi joined the three EAC ‘founder’ members (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania) in July 2007. Today, this translates into a combined population of 142m living on 1.818m km² of land, with an estimated nominal GDP of US$66bn, and around US$488 GDP per capita.

Tanzania is the most richly-endowed with natural resources and comparative advantages. It has more land-area than its four colleagues combined! But it also lags far behind in socio-economic infrastructure; qualified workforce; entrepreneurial gung-ho, and quality of life… According to the latest World Population Report, 89% of 46.2m Tanzanians live below $1.25 per day — compared to 81% of 8.6m Burundians, and only 22% of Kenya’s 41.6m population!

The general idea is for the five-member countries to work towards full socio-econo-political integration. They'd do this by (among other things) jointly undertaking development programmes in economic, social, cultural and political fields, as well as joint defence, security, technology, research and legal/judicial matters.

The future’s still very much ahead of us in East Africa. What’s of immediate interest, though, is that the integration pace has been considerably reduced from what the fast track-minded protagonists wanted it to be. Many of the processes involved on the road to Political Federation (‘fast-tracked’ by 2013; reality on the ground: indeterminate) have stalled, thrown out of kilter.  

Kenya – still the biggest economy – wants fast-tracked integration. Ditto for the other three members, all of whom are virtually land-starved, land-locked, jobs-hungry and natural resources-starved… This partly explains Tanzania’s over-cautiousness – call it what you will – in the envisaged integration... Which could be just as well, considering the witticisms that ‘more haste, less speed; haste makes waste,’ etc!

The report on addressing the fears, concerns and challenges of the EA Federation released at the Heads of State Summit in Bujumbura last month says the partner states are worried they’d lose power and independence of decision-making as a result of losing sovereignty. Not only that… Tanzanians still harbour painful moments from the break-up of the earlier integration effort, and are cautious, anxious that this won’t be repeated anytime soon.

Before the EAC concept took hold in 1967, East Africans were served much better by the East African Common Services Organisation – and other institutions even earlier than that. These served us all so well in jointly providing common services which saw to East Africans freely operating across borders, complete with a common Currency Board and other shared services/assets. Why did we discard those, going for a concept that seems to be more of a bane than a boon? Why, indeed?


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