‘You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink’
If integration was a locomotive, the EAC would be an unpredictable line running on political will, making lengthy stops, at time in Nairobi, at times in Dar, in Kigali, Kampala, Juba or Buja train stations, to ensure that every passenger gets on board, moving at the pace and the will of every member-state.
It would get there, eventually.
Chairpersons of the community change every year, but the speed of integration reflects the health of relationships among member states.
In good times, we integrate faster, in rough times we move slower. And rough times we have experiencing lately.
It is true that President Kagame’s efficiency makes East Africans more expectant of his chairmanship – which he currently holds.
But he has no magic wand; his agency is reliant on his peers’ will. By peers, I mean the five other heads of state, not the rank and file at the EAC Secretariat in Arusha or any of the agencies affiliated to the six-nation bloc.
I saw colleagues citing the relationship between the Chairman of the community with its current Secretary General, as the possible reason for its problems.
Such comparison is misconstrued. In reality, there can’t be issues of that nature between an employee and his direct employer.
The Secretary General serves at the will of the Summit which is represented by the incumbent Chairperson and that regardless of their country of origin.
Moreover, while occupying their respective roles, the Chairperson and the Secretary General represent interests of the 174 million citizens of the six member states.
The answers to issues within the EAC need to be looked for within the three major institutions of the community, namely: the Summit composed of the heads of state, the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) made up of representatives from respective member states and the Secretariat, which is charged with the day-to-day operations of the bloc.
For instance, it is not a coincidence that member states have developed reluctance to pay membership fees following an audit report accusing the secretariat of funds mismanagement, and nothing concretely done to that effect.
That and other self-inflicted wrangles over positions within the community further erode the confidence of the people of East Africa.
In principle, the East African Court of Justice was created to adjudicate matters of regular citizens of member states, the EALA to harmonize laws for a smoother integration, the Secretariat to coordinate and fast-track integration and the summit to provide leadership and political will.
Each one of these bodies has had institutional problems, spending the people’s resources to fix themselves time and again, at the expense of the integration process. That is the context in which President Kagame inherited the EAC Chairmanship.
However, he did not have the political will and the support that he enjoyed at the African Union.
If he was able to do well at the continent’s level it is because leaders were collectively ‘willing’ to back his reforms and his leadership.
That’s what has lacked at regional level: collective political will: when one country is ready to move, the other isn’t, etc.
That needs to change. For eight million dollars a year of contribution, citizens of East Africa expect decisiveness and faithfulness in decision-making.
While complaining about delayed remittances by the partner states, the onus is on the organs of the community to demonstrate transparency, probity and ‘value for money’, as it were.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.