Thursday, February 21, 2008



By Jerry Okungu

Tanzania and Uganda have been going about sensitizing their nationals about the benefits and fears of a political federation for the better part of the last four months while Kenya still tinkered with the process.

Four months later, Kenya finally hit the road running and within a week, the team had covered seven provinces with messages of hopes and challenges embedded in the political arrangement.

Reports filtering in from Kenyan provinces indicate that most Kenyans are light years ahead of the committee that was appointed to sensitize them. The majority of them are more interested in how it will impact their lives rather than whether it will be realized. They have been expecting it all along. As I write this article the thirty-three member committee is this week holding court in Kenya’s capital city to receive verbal and written presentations on the views of the city residents and the urban elite.

The case of Tanzania is rather dicey. News filtering in indicates that some parts of the Union, especially in mainland have out-rightly rejected the idea of a political federation let alone fast-tracking it. Even more worrying is the fact that the political leadership of the Union tends to be lukewarm to the debate if not outright hostile.

In Uganda, the Baganda seem to be pushing their own forty- year-old parochial agenda of a federal government in Uganda before they endorse an East African arrangement. This is more or less the same position Zanzibaris would love to take. Having been forced into a union by the founding fathers of the Islands and Tanganyika without consulting the islanders, they are seeing a golden opportunity to break away from a forced marriage into a voluntary one. What the islanders are saying is that they would rather join the East African federation as an entity rather than as an appendage of Tanganyika.

Although July 2007 is just three months away when the findings will be presented to the Summit of Heads of States, indications are that it may be a tall order securing a unanimous endorsement for fast-tracking it; at least not now. The biggest skepticism is naturally coming from Tanzanians who are worried stiff about the security of their jobs, fragile businesses and the threat of uncontrolled invasion of their sovereignty by the better educated and streetwise Kenyans and Ugandans. More importantly, having led a relatively quieter life, the threat of being faced with internal conflicts, ethnic animosities, violent robberies and exchange of gunfire between the police and armed bandits from across their borders doesn’t seem quite attractive.

Interestingly, a number of Kenyans who took part in debates across the country seemed to concur with fears expressed by Tanzanians.

They confessed that if the community breaks this time, it will be by the same Kenyans who derailed it in 1977 that will do it again. Kenyans confess that they possess a number of negative traits that are dangerous for the region. Ordinary Kenyans blame uncontrolled greed of the ruling class who want everything for themselves ranging from their insatiable appetite to grab tracks of land, wealth from public institutions and generally want to accumulate and dominate the business sector.

Then there is this perception that Kenyans are too politically and ethnically polarized to fit comfortable into a regional political arrangement. That chances of exporting these negative traits into the region are very high. Kenya’s high political awareness has transformed an otherwise polished competition for ideas into tribal ideologies. We are Kikuyus, Kambas, Luos and Luhyas first before we become Kenyans. This scenario makes transforming us into East Africans rather an uphill task though not impossible.

But they also expressed their own fears about Tanzanians and Ugandans. What worries Kenyans most is how the disparity in economic strengths will be harmonized. They fear losing out once the three economies are merged. Another concern for Kenyans is the land issue. Whereas Tanzanians fear that the influx of Kenyans across their borders will accelerate land grabbing Kenyan style, Kenyans are worried that a federated East Africa will render their title deeds worthless since the two sister states nave never traded in land as personal property.

These fears aside, there are a number of benefits which the civic education has expounded to groups met in the respective partner states. The benefits of an expanded market base, a common market and a customs union have been obvious to many. The idea of a common currency to guard against foreign exchange losses across our borders has been attractive to many. The benefits of having a common electricity grid, a common telephone network, a common air, rail and road transport that will make calls, fares and electricity bills cheaper were also received well.

Whereas the majority of Kenyans found the federation message appealing, they asked committee members to provide them with guarantees that once the federation was realized, it would be cushioned against political interference should a regime change take place in any of the partner states.

Another area of concern was the low number of women and youth in the National Consultative Committee. Of the thirty- three members only three were women.
That meant that when they went to the field there was only one woman amongst eight men in three groups with no woman at all in the fourth group. In the same committee there was only one youth representation making their presence negligible if not absent in five of the seven provinces visited in the first week of sensitization.

The fact of the matter is that East Africa has a very young population, most of who were born after the collapse of the first Community. Therefore selling the federation should be left to the very people whose future has a stake in it.
Filling committees with old guards who are past sell-by-date may send a wrong signal to the majority of our populations. The youth may see it as the old guards’ project and reject it on that note alone. True, it cannot be left to the youth alone but let the majority be young people whose future depends on it rather than retirees whose only motive is what they can rip off the project.

Another interesting argument has emerged from Kenya. A number of participants suggested that National Consultative Committees should have been merged into one East African Consultative Committee comprising of 9 Kenyans, 9 Tanzanians and 9 Ugandans so that each partner state would have 3 Kenyans, 3 Tanzanians and 3 Ugandans visiting and talking to them. That way they would have had a chance to listen to nationals of the three partner states discussing fears and advantages of the federation. Such an arrangement would have built more confidence among participants that the project was a truly regional concern rather partner states just talking to themselves.

More importantly, the campaign should have been centrally coordinated from Arusha to create some harmony and consistency rather than leaving it to the whims of individual states.

Having said that, it is my considered opinion that selling the federation to East Africans is too important a project to be left to a group of handpicked men and women, whose backgrounds and beliefs about East Africa have never been tested. This is perhaps one of the most important projects to test Africa’s if not the Black race’s ability to determine its future. The future and success of this campaign depends on strong political, business and social leadership. Politicians, Business leaders and Civil Society leaders cannot take a backseat and hope that things will be alright. Leading political parties must embrace the federation and make the issue a campaign agendum just like the business community has taken the lead in networking the region. Celtel One Network and Safaricom Kama Kawaida initiatives are examples of what strong leadership; whether business or political can do.

We have learnt our lessons in the first wave. We have an opportunity to correct our mistakes in the following waves because the campaign has just started.