Wednesday, September 17, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
September 15, 2008

Wachira Waruru, the CEO of Royal Media was in Dar es Salaam recently. He was on a mission to buy local programmes from Tanzanian broadcasters. He told me his was one way of supporting regional integration. Passionately, he convinced me that he did not understand why a Boer sitting in Cape Town could buy Nigerian movies, put them on the satellite and succeed while African broadcasters still trooped to Cannes Film Festival to buy American sitcoms!

According to Waruru, East African showbiz was light years ahead of the political class in the integration department. They perform together; they visit one another and have common following. That was the reason he decided to bring bongo fleva comedies to Kenyans television screens by buying readymade programmes from Tanzania.

As early as mid 2004 Presidents Mkapa, Moi and Museveni thought it necessary to fast-track the Community’s political integration. Subsequently the Summit appointed the Amos Wako Task Force to look at the modalities of making the region’s political integration a reality in the shortest time possible. It was also supposed to gauge the opinions of ordinary people in the then three member states on the same.

Based on the Wako report, a year later, a special political integration office was established at Arusha to drive the process. That office started its work in 2005 with a lot of enthusiasm. It opened public debate in the three countries and East Africans finally gave their verdict in June 2007. Unfortunately, a year later, little progress has been made; if anything there appears to be some kind of indifference to the whole process.

Of late there have been strong individual efforts from Paul Kagame, Yoweri Museveni and Mwai Kibaki on regional integration.

Kagame has pledged to take the EAC to the next level during his tenure as the Summit’s chairman. Accordingly, he has abolished work permits for East Africans working in Rwanda. Museveni wants common border posts abolished so that there can be free movement of people and goods. Kibaki has ordered a 24 hour operation at the port of Mombasa to fast track goods passing through Kenya to neighboring countries. Along with that, he has ordered the withdrawal of all police roadblocks between Mombasa and border posts to facilitate faster transit of foreign vehicles transiting through Kenya.

Ironically, while all these positive overtures are being pronounced by our leaders, fishermen in our common lake still get arrested by overzealous police patrol boats from Tanzania and Uganda. Their targets ironically are always fishermen from Kenyan side!

As Tanzania exports to Kenya continue to grow by leaps and bounds, it is not uncommon to read of trade disputes between Kenya and Tanzania; the latest one being the dairy milk war!

As I write this article, there is a Council of Ministers and a possible Summit in the offing in Arusha. Hopefully all these issues together with regional integration at least at the Common Market level will be high up on the agenda.

Talking of EAC meetings, I can count at least seven meetings between May and August this year. Aren’t we beginning to meet more than we are implementing? Where is the time to sit in the office either at the EAC or national offices to think, strategize and implement resolutions? At what point in time are we going to sit down and operationalize our resolutions? Or, are we satisfied with turning the EAC into another talking shop?

For ten years, President Jakaya Kikwete served as Foreign Minister under Benjamin Mkapa. His docket then included the East African Community. For this reason, he was a permanent fixture at the Council of Ministers and therefore privy to the deliberations. When he became President, he joined Yoweri Museveni and Mwai Kibaki at the Summit. It would a tragedy if Kikwete finished his two terms without realizing the East African regional integration.

Now that Rwanda and Burundi have joined the Community, should we expect an injection of new blood and impetus? Can we move faster and make them realize their dreams of joining the community? To be fair to them; the only reason they struggled for years to join the EAC was because they were seeing the big picture. They saw an expanded market, increased trade and freedom of movement of people, goods and services. They saw security in numbers in this era of global competition. Do we have to let them down with our usual procrastination? I don’t think so!