I will not lie and say that I wasn’t an East African Community enthusiast. I was taken up with the notion of open borders, passport-less travel, trailers whizzing around packed with goods, and finally, some enduring political stability based on democratic values. In other words, I almost equated the East African Community with the European Union.
Sad to say, but less than a year after the accession of Rwanda and Burundi into the grouping of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania I’m wondering what the hoopla was all about.
Yes, the Customs Union was coming along nicely and the talk was all about a single East African entity through political federation.
However, with one giant shake, the entire edifice is tumbling down. Talk about building your house on a foundation of sand!
Let us look at the Kenyan crisis. Kenya, which had hitherto been an oasis of relative stability along with Tanzania, has been engulfed by post-election violence due to, let’s face it, the disenfranchisement of the Kenyan electorate by President Mwai Kibaki and his electoral team.
If the tribal violence, which I believe has a bit of a genocidal whiff to it, which pitted the large groupings of the Luo and the Kikuyu and has killed an estimated 600 people thus far wasn’t bad enough, all this brutality has brought Kenya to a standstill.
Kenya, which is by far the largest economy in the East African region, cannot be afforded the luxury of a meltdown, financial or otherwise; if not for its own sake then for the entire region’s sake. If this had happened in another country for example, Lord forbid, we’d watch the violence on our television sets, shudder and continue, rather callously, with our lives.
But Kenya, with the port of Mombasa, is the main inlet and outlet of Ugandan, Rwandan, Burundian and East Congolese goods. Not only that, but Mombasa is the main oil refining centre of the region as well.
The capital Nairobi, the main manufacturing hub of East Africa is only just coming out of its paralysis. What I’m trying to put across is the absolute necessity of a stable Kenya not only to its own citizens but to the entire region.
Who should be the guarantor of this stability? The Government of Kenya, and when it fails in its duty, the East African Community bloc. One might argue that the EAC is strictly a trading bloc and nothing else.
However, I beg to differ. Good inter-regional trade is only possible if political stability is guaranteed. And as history has shown, political stability can only be possible through democratic practice. Therefore, if there is to be real sustainable trade in this region, then what’s happening in Kenya should be everyone’s business.
I felt personally aggrieved that when the political stalemate in Kenya came to a head, no real political push by the heads of the East African states or the EA Commission was made to mediate the crisis.
Instead of a Kagame, Museveni, Kikwete or Nkurunziza being in the thick of things I watched in disbelief as, first, South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, then American Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, then AU chairman and Ghanaian President John Kufour, and NOW former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan attempted to mediate an end to the crisis.
My question is, do these great people have a better understanding of the issues than we, Kenya’s immediate neighbours? Are we less partial maybe? I think not. In fact, I believe that we have the most to gain if this crisis comes to an end, and the least to gain if it goes on much longer.
The East African Community as an organisation, the leaders of the individual nations, the business community and the entire civil society must stand up and be counted.
First of all to tell the Kenyan belligerents that neither electoral fraud nor violence in reaction will be tolerated, and secondly, to be proactive in being a part of the mediation and solution.
We’ve always said that we must get African solutions to African problems.
This is not just a test to the Kenyan people but rather the entire East African leadership. Stand up and be counted EAC or go down the 1977 route of irrelevance and finally dismantlement once again.