One of the best times to get a credible pulse of what East African integration feels like is when you are at the different EAC border posts. These border crossings are always bustling with a rare energy that ambushes you the moment you get there.
You will meet and get accosted by those ubiquitous polyglots who switch from one language to another without stuttering. They will try to help you with changing your money from one currency to another. Everyone around these areas is in a hurry to make a quick buck because they know most people are just passing through quickly.
However the truck drivers can be seen moving around leisurely trying to clear their cargo before proceeding with their journeys. They often take a whole day or two to go through a border crossing but this is going to change and in some places has already changed.
The much talked about One-Stop-Border posts are slowly taking shape in the region and are set to speed up cargo processing at the different border crossings. This is because the trucks will only be stop on one side of the border and attended to by a joint inspection team of customs officials from the two countries that share a border.
A lot has changed about the different border crossings in East Africa with most if not all, operating on a 24 hours basis. Many bridges are being reconstructed to replace the old ones. I foresee a situation where these border posts evolve into neater and more organised areas.
The use of national identity cards to cross some of the borders has also made life much easier for most East Africans. Rwanda continues to set the pace in these endeavours and recently got rid of those cards that travellers had to fill in when leaving or entering the country. Everything is now simply automated and fast.
Moving away from the borders, the news that old students of Ntare School in Uganda (Mbarara) are planning to hold their next reunion in Kigali got me excited even though I do not belong to that club. You see these students are going to fundraise for the construction of a twin school in Rwanda’s Bugesera District.
Ntare School is one of the best secondary schools in Uganda and one of those that belong to an informal group of the ‘traditional’ schools scattered around the country. The school gained more popularity when it later produced two presidents in President Yoweri Museveni and President Paul Kagame who attended the school at different times.
This idea is not so different from the one that old girls of Maryhill High School (also in Mbarara) where the old students living in Rwanda plan to set up a sister school here as well assisted by their sisters in Uganda. These schools have already contributed a lot by producing products in Uganda and Rwanda. The creation of twin schools can only further this process and feed into the EAC integration agenda.
When you have twin schools in two countries you are sure of a cooperation that allows people from across borders to interact and learn more about each other. Having an Ntare School in Rwanda would for example mean an annual cricket game on a home and away basis between the two schools. They can exchange teachers and even visit each other once in a while.
Other schools may not have to follow the same path but instead sign a partnership agreement with any other school in Rwanda and do the same; have visits, teacher exchanges or even offer scholarships under an exchange programme. They can organise competitions like quizzes, debates and some sports events.
This should also extend beyond Rwanda and Uganda. Schools in Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi can also establish such relationships. I can already picture a partnership between Kenya’s Alliance High School with Uganda’s King’s College Budo or St. Mary’s Yala establishing a partnership with a school in Tanzania.
If we want this integration agenda to hold firm then we have to take up such opportunities and sow these integration seeds in the younger generation that is still in school. Such educational partnerships can hardly go wrong. We already have students studying across borders but we can have formal school to school partnerships.
With more twin schools and students studying across borders we could see another school producing two East African leaders just like Ntare gave us Museveni and Kagame.