At Friday’s opening of Bank of Kigali’s service centre on Kigali Heights, I was honoured to meet several eminent gentlemen and a lady that loyally follow this column, the best motivation for any writer; they also gave me some honest feedback regarding my profile picture.
“It makes you look like a giant,” said one gentleman. Disclaimer: I am only half a giant.
“You actually look older in the picture,” said another gentleman.
I am actually 360 months old, a long time if you are polite enough not to convert it into years.
Another gentleman teased me about the green jacket and the striped shirt. The banter left me in such a great mood that I could have written a wonderful romance essay that night.
To be fair, the feedback on Friday about my profile picture is consistent with what others have told me before.
Pictures are lovely. They are a form of writing and a good way of advancing viewpoints. In media framing, pictures are the best tools of composition and currently, the best case study is the media’s pictorial representation of the cantankerous US President Donald Trump.
Based on the feedback, I will be changing my profile picture, soon. But it is not only me with a picture to fix; East Africa’s picture of regional integration is increasingly becoming blurry as members place more focus on their respective national priorities.
Originally, the picture we drew from East Africa’s rhetoric on regional integration was that member countries were harmonizing their respective national dreams to form one giant regional dream spacious enough for all citizens of the now six member states.
Instead, what we have ironies that are inconsistent with the Common Market which has been in force since 2010 in line with the provisions of the EAC Treaty.
The Common Market led us into drawing a beautiful picture of a borderless market large enough for the region’s 150million citizens. It was an exciting picture whose pixels included free movement of goods, persons, labour, and right to establishment of residence.
Yet on a closer look, it is a picture that is visible in some countries, blurry in others and completely invisible in others.
Three days ago, Uganda’s trade ministry launched a BUBU policy unpacked as ‘Buy Uganda, Build Uganda’ whose objective is to ‘boost small and medium local manufacturers who, left on their own, are unable to compete at par with their foreign counterparts.’
A year ago, Kenya announced a similar initiative known as ‘Buy Kenya, Build Kenya’ which pledged to ‘enforce policies to ensure that increased consumption of goods and services produced locally.’
The background to these two countries’ policies is imbedded in their respective national frameworks and clearly in conflict with efforts to build a bigger regional market for East African manufacturers to freely compete.
It appears that the idea of East Africa as one economic bloc has refused to register in our minds, so we are now ‘arming’ the region’s manufacturers against each other yet we should be arming them to join efforts in reducing the region’s international trade deficit.
There is a good exception in the Made in Rwanda initiative whose core objective is not to ‘arm’ Rwandan manufacturers against their East African counterparts, but rather to generally help reduce the country’s international trade deficit.
As a region, we should be promoting ‘Buy East Africa, Build East Africa.’ That way, we could have combined efforts of made in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan arming East African manufacturers against international imports from Europe and Asia.
There are other tendencies in the region that we must discourage.
For instance, a Burundian friend who has been working and residing in one of East Africa’s six member states for the last two years may be forced to return home because of some workplace sentiments that suggest her position should be filled by a national from that country.
Sentiments such as those that stigmatize people based on their nationalities should not be permitted residence in an East African Common Market that allows for free movement of labour and establishment of residence.
Again, Rwanda offers a good example; recently I went to the immigration office to renew my work permit and after noticing that I have progressively been living and working here for the last eight years, an official wondered why I couldn’t simply apply for citizenship.
While I found the suggestion strongly appealing, it also drew a question; why not simply make an East African passport accessible to more people as it gives you citizenship in all six member states? The African passport maybe a good idea but regional passports make more sense.
Unfortunately, these are tough times for regional integration as groupings such as EU, hitherto seen as role models are now disintegrating as nationalism gains the upper hand. At the moment, the picture of East Africa’s Regional Integration is not an accurate reflection of reality.