My first ever flight was on a Fokker Friendship in the company of my mother when she worked for the East African Airways. I had a wonderful time at the Coast and, upon our return to Nairobi, bragged to my friends and assumed that flights to Mombasa during the school holidays would henceforth become a way of life.
I couldn’t have been more wrong; mother had resigned to take up a position with more regular working hours and the trip had been a parting gift from her employer.
Gone were the faux leopard-skin pillbox hat, elbow-length gloves and pointy high-heels that were part of the uniform that she would don before being whisked off by the company mini-bus that did the rounds picking up staff.
I went back to catching buses to visit my grandmother upcountry and lowered my expectations to hoping that I might one day travel first-class by the East African Railways to visit my cousins at the coast; it never came to pass.
Years later, I was part of the very last cohort to obtain the East African Certificate of Advanced Education after the disintegration of the EAC in 1977.
When I came to live in Belgium and experienced European integration from within, I couldn’t help but wonder what it might have been had Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania continued to benefit from the economies of scale that resulted from sharing services in such areas as transport, post and telecommunications, power and lighting, medical research, aviation training, customs and tax management and even higher education through the University of East Africa.
By the time of its collapse, the EAC was both a fully-fledged customs union and a common market with an institutional framework that was more elaborate and more powerful in decision making than that of the European Community when I arrived here in the early 80s.
Although it has yet to recover the ground lost over three decades ago, East African integration is back on track and receiving a significant, if unrecognised, boost from the diaspora.
My friend Tony — Kenya’s resident chef famous for the sumptuous dishes he serves during national day celebrations and other Kenyan events — had for the last several months been all over Facebook and Twitter busy rustling the troops to ensure that Kenya would be adequately represented at the second edition of Miss East Africa Belgium.
This is the second year running that the pageant is organised by Exotic Night, a group of young entrepreneurs of Rwandese origin out to promote East African culture, music and art.
The group sees East Africa as also including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia, and, indeed, the competition was open to participants from these countries, perhaps a hint that the journey to greater regional integration should carry along with it the aspirations of the peoples of the region rather than being merely a leader-led and politically-driven process.
Tellingly, the participating countries are part of the Eastern Africa regional grouping of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of States which also includes the Seychelles, the Comoros, Madagascar, Sudan and, shortly, the Republic of South Sudan.
Two Kenyans were among the twelve finalists at the event held recently which attracted over a thousand people, with many Kenyans coming over the border from the Netherlands to cheer on Julia Njoroge and Michelle Keri.
The event also showcased Maasai-inspired outfits by Catherine Achieng of Mwafrika Designs which is based in Antwerp. Rwanda’s Knowless and Uganda’s Jose Chameleon had the party jumping and swinging soon after Julia Njoroge, a twenty-one year old student of African Language and Culture at the University of Ghent, was declared Miss East Africa Belgium 2012.
Julia went away with a cash prize of 2,000 Euros and a jewellery voucher worth 1,000 Euros while runners-up Nabiha Hassan from Djibouti and Juliana Pierre from Tanzania received respectively 1,500 and 1,000 Euros in prize money.
Guchu is a Kenyan residing in Belgium.