The news coming out of the 9th Extraordinary Summit of East African Heads of State is that Dr. Richard Sezibera, Rwandan Minister of Health and former Presidential Great Lakes envoy, is the next Secretary General of the East African Community.
He is replacing Tanzanian Juma V. Mwapachu, who has served his five year term of office. His appointment was not without a spot of bother. Rumors, which were never really corroborated by an official statement, abounded about Kenyan dismay that the post wouldn’t go to a Nairobi native.
In fact, things became so heated that our Minister of East African Community Affairs, Monique Mukaruliza, took a full page advert in The East African reiterating Rwanda’s right to take the post as stipulated the East African Treaty, which made the post of secretary-general one that was shared, in a revolving manner, with all EAC members. Well, now that we have ‘it’, what shall we do about it?
The East African Community is a big deal; the problem is, its only a big deal for a tiny minority of East African citizens. When you go to Pakwach, northern Uganda and ask a taxi tout what the EAC means to him, I wager that the response is a quizzical look and a shrug of the shoulder? The same goes for most people living in Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi. I feel that, for too long, the EAC dream has remained stuck in Arusha, barely registering anywhere else. While it’s easy to blame the media for not disseminating EAC news throughout the region, that would be unfair; no one wants to read an article about the signing of a ‘memorandum of understanding on EAC fisheries’ for example. It’s simply not journalistic ‘eye candy’. But the staidness, in my opinion, coming from Arusha isn’t something that we should shrug our shoulders and take for granted. There is another way.
Rwanda, as a nation, is known for thinking outside the box, initiating and implementing constructive ideas and making sure that our communication is top notch. We’ve been able to, not only, articulate a national vision and development strategy (Vision2020 and the EDPRS) but we have also effectively communicated these goals to the common citizen, making sure that the words become commonly used adages. So common, it’s become normal to refer to any new, swanky thing as “Vision 2020”.
The EAC really needs what Rwanda has to offer. For too long we’ve talked about EAC passports and travel visas for visitors to the region. For too long I’ve waited for the influx of cheap EA goods from the manufacturing giants based in Nairobi and Kampala. For too long the free movement of goods and services has remained a pipe-dream. Rwanda’s renowned ability to knock heads together and get things done will be crucial, especially if we are to see a common EAC currency by 2012 and full political federation by 2015, as planned.
Rwanda doesn’t just have a lot to give to the EAC in terms of leadership, but a fit and proper EAC has a lot to give back to us. When Rwanda talks to investors our domestic market size of 11 million people isn’t an impressive statistic. However, when we say that our position as a member state of the EAC gives us a market size of 132 million potential customers, investors ears perk up. So, it is in our own best interest that the EAC doesn’t remain a bureaucratic sleeping giant but rather an engine that propels its people to green pastures anew.