The imperative for the East African Community to collaborate as a bloc means that any anomaly in the fabric of one of the member countries may affect the other members and subvert the letter and spirit of the Customs Union Protocol, the core pillar aimed at mutual economic development.
Corruption is perhaps one of the major malaises symbolizing such an anomaly that has a broad reach that impacts negatively. This was brought home recently by local traders expressing a concern that corruption in the member countries affected their businesses (see “Gov’t to address traders’ grievances”, New Times, 9th Nov 2011).
The traders claimed that due to graft, larger competitors from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania were selling their products in the country at lower costs despite associated tariffs and transport costs.
This was given credence by Rwanda Minister of East African Community as she lamented that corruption had frustrated efforts to eliminate non-tariff barriers in member states, thus affecting Rwanda as a land locked country.
Statistics on levels of corruption among the EAC member countries are certainly alarming. According to the Transparency International’s East African Bribery Index for 2011, Burundi has a bribery prevalence level of 37.9% up from 36.7% in 2010, Uganda and Tanzania 33.9% and 31.6% respectively, both up from 33% and 28.6% in 2010. Kenya recorded a slight improvement at 28.8% down from 31.9% in 2010. Rwanda had the lowest prevalence of 5.1% down from 6.6% last year.
Given the high prevalence and the effect this has within the individual countries and the region as a whole, there is a general acknowledgement of the urgent need to curb levels of corruption by the member states. The question is how to go about it.
It may be remarked that even with the impressive 5.1 percent bribery prevalence level, Rwanda still has a problem of corruption to deal with as the other EAC member countries.
While the other member states seem to rely on penal code and the promise of severe punishment for culprits to curb corruption, Rwanda stands out for having additionally embarked on a programme to promote individual citizens moral rectitude through institutionalisation of traditional socio-cultural mechanisms of ensuring exemplary citizenship and leadership such as the Itorero.
The programme promotes positive Rwandan values, history and civic role in development towards national unity and social cohesion. It is, essentially, about individual responsibility and how one’s action can positively affect others around them and impact on national development.
Itorero, on the other hand, is predicated on the traditional concept of Imfura y’i Rwanda (gentleman of Rwanda), with all the connotations of what a gentleman should be. As has been articulated by one Rwandan scholar, “[t]o be impfura meant adherence to socio-cultural standards and values in a moral fibre that made a proud and incorruptible nation.”
It may be noted that this coincides with the African concept of Ubuntu enshrined in the Xhosa proverb: umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, which literally means a person is a person through persons. Ubuntu is commonly described through the saying “I am because you are” or “my humanity is tied up with your humanity”.
This suggests that other African countries may have something to draw from their own cultures towards their citizens’ moral rectitude.
With the existence of such a possibility, perhaps other EAC member states should consider harkening to their traditional values, in addition to ensuring enforcement of the law to curb corruption.
Mwaura is an author and freelance journalist.