When the leaders of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania sat down to revive the East African Community, they seemed to have set off on a more ambitious path than their predecessors. This is because, soon after they got the EAC back on track, they started listening to voices of those within and outside who were talking about letting others into this probably cherished club.
Even before Ugandans could polish up their Kishwali to pronounce the word Mashariki, Rwanda and Burundi had joined. Rwanda then adopted English as the language of instruction leaving Burundi as the loner on that French arrangement. Rwanda joined with a lot of enthusiasm and spearheaded so many initiatives aimed at improving the way we do things in this region.
After those two, South Sudan also came knocking and the door was opened. Somalia, Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo and even Sudan have all been mentioned as prospective members or have expressed interest in this great club called the East African Community. The argument has always been that colonial borders are limiting to our growth and working as a bloc is working smart. And I agree.
Of course there have been some challenges on this path, pegged to the differences in social, political and economic outlooks in each of the individual countries and also individual ethnic groups and other societies. But it is not all gloom. So much has been achieved together and still can be achieved.
For example, I like the fact that just by being members of the East African Community (EAC), more and more people are starting to feel that what happens in another EAC country concerns them too and so they need to keep up but with their brothers and sisters across the borders. It matters. I always like it when I hear someone explaining in Kinyarwanda what is happening in Kenya, Uganda or Tanzania to Rwandan listeners.
We need more of this in our media spaces. I have complained a couple of times before on why the region’s media platforms are hesitant to invest in covering news outside their borders. Sometimes all they do is send over a journalist to cover an election and then wait for the next election cycle. In between, we are left to pick bits of information from news agencies that are more interested in the usual poverty, conflict and disease stories.
We forget that those outside our spaces have their own perspectives and interests. When something as hugely devastating as the recent bomb attack in Somalia that claimed over 200 lives happens, we cry that they are not with us and would have acted different if it had happened in Europe. My question here would be whether we are there for each other before we spend time calling out on others. Terrorism has affected almost every country in one way or another.
During such times our solidarity is what is needed the most. I would have expected that we mourn with our Somali brothers and sisters even by just lowering our flags for a few days. Our leaders talking about this and assuring Somalis that they are not alone in the fight against terrorism, would have also counted for much. Our own lives will not gain value if we do not do what we should. We need to reflect on this some more.
As for Kenya, at this point I am not sure how exactly things are supposed to play out when an election is set; one party insists hey won’t be part of it but also they won’t let it happen, while the other insists it will happen. At the same time you have key players in the electoral body running away and resigning, others taking ‘leave’ soon after the main boss assures us that he cannot guarantee that the election will be free and fair.
Two weeks back I had a chat with a Rwandan who had tried doing business in Uganda and later moved to Kisumu in Kenya. When there was violence in Kisumu soon after the election, he fled apparently because his colleagues think he is a Kikuyu. He has been sitting it out since then, earning nothing and spending all his savings. Keeping up with Kenya right now can be tiring but we have to keep hoping for the best because what happens there will affect us all like it has in the past.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the New Times Publications.