Will the skies redeem the EAC spirit in the coming year?

2018 has eventually come to an end and if you have made it this far and even reading this then you can celebrate a bit as we move into the New Year. The year has seen a lot of the progress that East Africa as a region has achieved over the years being put to test and in some cases eroded.

The region that now also has South Sudan as a member has seen the year ending on a note of mutual suspicions between some member states and a worrying point where Heads of State summits are becoming harder to pull off. Like any other family, tensions among member states are not new and the optimistic me has always waited for them to pass and then watch family members breaking bread again.

Over the years the different EAC summits have come out with exciting announcements on the benefits that are lined up for us to enjoy as East Africans. Some have come to fruition while others have remained as minutes in documents now filed and stored in filing cabinets. We are still a long way from the integration that we aspire for and sometimes it feels like we are making one step forward and two steps backward.

All said, the connections between the people continue to be a much stronger bond than the varying political environments of the countries. Every now and then you will meet with people that will make you love the fact that you are East African. Some you will meet online, others in business and others in random places all reminding you that we cannot escape the fact that we connected.

The highlight of the year for me was recently when I attended a wedding for a Burundian friend of mine. The wedding was held in Kigali at the Convention Centre and it is was interesting seeing so many Burundians living happily and enjoying the best of what Rwanda has to offer. While the Burundi government enjoys blaming Kigali for anything that happens back at home, you cannot deny the fact that Rwanda has been more than generous to Burundians who no longer feel safe at home.

Away from the weddings and the feel good vibes they come with, I am really looking forward to what the year 2019 will offer in terms of further integration. For starters I am glad that work on the One Stop Border Post at Gatuna has resumed and the Rwandan side is already getting that signature look that we have grown accustomed to. The pedestrian walkway is taking shape and you can tell where the green grass and probably some palm trees will be.

Another key development I am looking forward in the New Year will be the activity in our skies. The region has moved from near monopoly of Kenya airways to the fast paced growth of Rwandair giving many passengers more choice when choosing which bird to sit on for a journey in the region and beyond.

In 2018, Air Tanzania has made strides in its journey to return to the skies and curve out a piece of the regional aviation cake. With a few good planes acquired, it looks like they are ready to play with the region’s big boys especially after acquiring some wide body aircrafts from Boeing and Airbus. Not to be left behind, Uganda Airlines has also been shopping around for some birds to revive an airline that has been gone for so long that many living Ugandans have never even heard of it before.

Some people confused the defunct Aga Khan owned Air Uganda to have been a national airline yet it was a private one.  In the last months of 2018, pictures of the first plane getting its paint work were leaked and got many excited that soon Entebbe will have planes with national colours at the apron. With the year ending before any of the Uganda Airlines new planes making it to Entebbe, 2019 is where we have to look as we wait.

I am not sure how four East African national airlines will impact on travel in the region but at the bare minimum, I hope air travel costs will come down and more East Africans will travel and interact. The revival and growth of these airlines means that aviation will remain ahead of railway and waterways since. The hopes around the Standard Gauge Railway reaching all parts of the region remain low given the cost and pace at which it is being rolled out.

Email: ssenyonga@gmail.com

Blog: www.ssenyonga.wordpress.com

Twitter: @ssojo81

The views expressed in this article are of the author.