All for the Sake of East African Unity

I am not saying that all Kenyans or Congolese for that matter, voted purely along ethnic or regional lines, but the provincial election breakdowns in both countries sent a clear message.

I am not saying that all Kenyans or Congolese for that matter, voted purely along ethnic or regional lines, but the provincial election breakdowns in both countries sent a clear message.

Therefore, the question is: is western-style democracy (based on numbers alone) applicable to (East) Africa? If not, what is the alternative? We must also address the issue of tribalism while embarking on the so-called East African Federation, instead of pretending that the problem does not exist – just for the sake of harmony – or hoping that it will solve itself.

It certainly won’t. But would an East African Federation dilute tribal politics and polarisation? It is imperative to depolarize society and therefore we need good will on all sides. One thing is for sure: one tribe’s hegemony (as in Kenya), tribal associations, radio stations etc. certainly do not foster national unity.

All sorts of commissions and institutions have been included in the lofty strategic goals of the expanded EAC but there are none to address ethical or social matters. Our cultures tend to pursue a policy of harmony and consensus, thus avoiding any confrontation (cf. attitude to Mugabe). But, this has to change, just like we had to change our traditions by adopting sexual education, in order to combat AIDS.

Maybe we could learn from countries like Lebanon or Canada which have intricate social structures and thus have adapted democratic principles to the local prevailing conditions. In Lebanon the president must be a Christian and the Prime Minister a Muslim. The liberal party in Canada stipulates that its head must be alternately Francophone or Anglophone in order to preserve national unity. Even in Nigeria or Tanzania, Christian and Muslim presidents must alternate, even though there is no provision for it.

Isn’t it the lesser evil if, at least for the time being, we also adapted democracy e.g. by suggesting that the president should preferably originate from a "minor" ethnic group? Or maybe we could introduce a rotating system to accommodate the regions/provinces.

Thus it is also good that Rwanda recently overhauled its provincial administrative structure in order to counterbalance ethnic make-up (in a similar way to the American "re-districting")

It has been stated time and again that many Tanzanians are reluctant to join a federation, because they do not want to get embroiled in the kind of tribalism prevalent in the other EAC members. But this does not mean there is no tribalism in Tanzania. It is very present, but not to be compared with the situation in other countries. There are many factors which favoured intertribal harmony, among them are: the ethnic make-up, Swahili, intermarriage between different ethnic groups, banning all tribal associations etc.

Kigali

 

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