One of the most ambitious projects in our recent history has been the revival and expansion of the East African Community. Most people may not have even realised that the community celebrated a decade of revival with pomp and colour. The original members, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania revived the defunct community and thereafter, Rwanda and Burundi were admitted too.
A sneak peak into the media easily reveals a scary trend. It appears as if the community is always making one huge step forward and then two steps backward.
Like a highway, there seem not to be enough signs to suggest that we are close to our destination or whether we are travelling at a commendable speed.
Driving on a highway can be a very stressful endeavour. However, the experience is much more bearable if the road being taken has enough signs to remind the driver of the black spots, sharp turns as well as the major towns.
He should know when to slow down and when to increase speed. However the situation on the ground appears to be more than different as compared to a standard highway. It is also quite murky I might add.
Once in a while we are treated to a high profile announcement from the EAC secretariat in Arusha, Tanzania complete with a glamorous photo opportunity of our five leaders smiling for the cameras.
Once the journalists switch off their hi-tech gadgets and return to their families. To watch the news, project East Africa also goes into hibernation until the next meeting or pronouncement.
Some cynics have already concluded that Arusha simply serves to offer our leaders a much deserved escape from the heat of local politics and preach about the EAC paradise.
Most of what we can tag as East African integration efforts never seems to leave the newspaper pages. A good example is the much touted fibre optic internet revolution. A year later, East Africans are still waiting for the so called internet revolution even with three cables having touched the coast.
Last month Nation Media Group (NMG) celebrated 50 years of its existence with a grand media conference where a lot was discussed. The top honchos at Nation did not hesitate to brag about having slowly created a huge media empire not just in Kenya but even beyond, thus claiming to be a truly East African media house.
The group has got huge media installations in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Sometime last year a high powered delegation from NMG met with Pres. Kagame and the outcome was an announcement of their expansion plans to cover Rwanda as well. This news created a lot of excitement among the Rwandan media fraternity.
However like most EAC-tinged projects, the excitement caused by this one has long died down. Even before we discuss their plans for Rwanda, we ought to ask them need to ask them why they still have no office in Burundi which is certainly a part of East Africa. It is not uncommon to find stories about Rwanda in The East African newspaper covered by journalist in Kampala or Nairobi. As someone observed recently, should we say that to them (NMG) Rwanda and Burundi are less East African.
If the biggest media house cannot find it necessary to fully integrate major parts of the community into their editorial interests then how shall we achieve integration? Isn’t there more we can get about Burundi other than peace agreements and returning refugees?
Moving on to politics, the horizon gets even more blurred in ambiguity. The Ugandan president has spent a lot of time positioning himself as a champion of East African issues. However most of the news from Uganda lately has not been about efforts to make Ugandans look towards a wider East Africa. Instead, altercations between the central government and the Kingdom of Buganda have taken centre stage.
How shall Ugandans feel East African when tribal politics is swallowing up the country? And this fades easily when one crosses over to Kenya. In Kenya the politics is clearly dressed in one colour, tribes. The recent Eldoret Agricultural Show revealed so little about the efforts to improve agriculture than it did about a prospective Kalenjin and Kikuyu alliance for the 2012 presidential elections.
This was attributed to the significance of President Kibaki and Agriculture minister riding on the same presidential Land Rover. Kenyans do not seem to recognise William Ruto as their agricultural minister. All they see is an influential Kalenjin from the volatile Rift valley area.
If indeed we have failed to create nationalism at the country level how then shall we expect to engender an East African spirit in the long run. Where are the vital signs on the road to a fully integrated East African entity?