Next month (June 26- 28) Rwanda will host the first East African Investment Conference. The event will bring together a cross-section of stakeholders in the future of East Africa and is part of the efforts towards regional economic integration.
It is apparent that the move towards regional integration within the East African region is beginning to bear fruit. Or at least there are indicators that the regional movers and shakers are positioning the countries to maximize fully the potentialities that come with formation of a bigger bloc.
East Africa as organised within the East African Community has got a market of 120 million people. Many believe such a big population has the capacity to place an otherwise underdeveloped entity on the social economic development trajectory.
Africa was deliberately curved up by European powers in the famous Berlin Conference of 1884/85, for the benefit of the colonising European powers. This balkanisation of Africa was precipitated by the demands of the industrial revolution that required a lot of raw materials to support mass production in Europe.
Thus as Europe developed, Africa underdeveloped in return. By Balkanising Africa into small inconsequential geo-political entities, European powers ensured that Africans would remain at the mercy of world powers where they had no influential role.
This remained the case even when colonialists retreated. Post-colonial Africa was marked by civil war, poverty and disease. All this compounded the underdevelopment of Africa.
Other countries elsewhere especially in Asia steadily realised reasonable levels of development, something that continued to elude Africans. In the last few decades, a number of countries in Asia and Latin America have gained an influential position in the current global order.
China, Brazil and India are three countries that have found the path towards industrialisation and have made huge strides in terms of development. What is common to the three countries is that they all have huge populations and more still have vast resources as a result of occupying huge geographical areas.
India in recent years has become the centre of new technology on the globe. The recent takeover of Land Rover and Jaguar by the Indian Automobile company TATA points to the new found role of India on the globe. It ought to be remembered that India was at the same level of development as most African countries a few decades ago.
What is apparent is that these countries have gained their position in the new world order as a result of having consolidated themselves as bigger political-economic blocs. Their vast resources have enabled them to gain a role in super power jostling.
Part of their success in realising economic progress is the availability of a huge internal market resultant from a huge population. Countries are thus guaranteed a level of trade that is not faced with the numerous trade barriers of international trade dynamics.
With a huge internal market, they are able to produce on a massive scale. The resultant benefits enable them to assert themselves internationally since they are able to dangle a few carrots to several developing countries and face off with the other powers when necessary.
This can be seen from the ease with which China has been able to exert its influence over most developing countries in recent years. Its economic power has played a great role.
Thus the future of hitherto Balkanized African countries lies in greater integration and political federation.
East African communities despite having a number of differences have a shared history that dates back to pre-colonial days. The implication is that the people are reasonably homogeneous to unite without much ado.
The differences, like the new countries in the community - Rwanda and Burundi - being predominantly Francophone, offer a number of benefits to the whole region.
The language difference instead of being a hindrance will be an advantage when it comes to negotiating with other Francophone international players.