Sunday, January 4, 2009




By John B. Osoro

Many East Africans remember how the name ‘Sebastian’ was derogatively used following the diplomatic breakdown between Kenya and Tanzania.

Some readers may even recall how the name acquired sudden prominence when, out of the blue, Kenya and Tanzania entered into intense propaganda hostilities as Tanzania referred to Kenya’s mode of capitalism as ‘man-eat-man’ society while Kenya described Tanzania’s socialism as ‘man-eat-nothing’ society. Luckily, the ‘shameful confrontation’ did not escalate into a full-blown war.

Time is ripe to re-examine the relevance of the East African Community (EAC) as constituted today. Some readers can remember when Charles Njonjo was once faulted for claiming that efforts towards enhancing the spirit of cooperation in East Africa were a mere waste of valuable time and resources. Other critics have even questioned the wisdom of the recent opinion polls asking East Africans to indicate whether they are ready for a political union.

This expression of doubt on the usefulness of the EAC as an economic bloc has resurfaced again. Surprisingly, if the latest utterances from Kampala, Nairobi and Kigali are anything to go by, Njonjo’s old concerns have been vindicated. This time round the Ugandan leadership minced no words.

Amin’s recklessness

As far as they are concerned Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi should proceed with efforts to attain increased economic cooperation and a political union without Tanzania.

Yet East Africans have a long history of close cooperation dating back to 1917, which began with the Customs Union between Kenya and Uganda with Tanzania joining in 1927. An increase in areas of cooperation was enhanced by the creation of the East African High Commission (1948-61), East African Common Services Organisation (1961-67) and the EAC (1967-77). Paradoxically, these many years of close cooperation did not stop the political systems of the three sister states from adopting different ideologies which finally made the collapse of the EAC inevitable.

For instance, while General Idi Amin’s reckless administration trampled upon the lives and welfare of his countrymen; he also deliberately irritated his fellow heads of state in the Eastern African region and beyond. Mwalimu Nyerere found Amin’s dictatorial ways unacceptable, and declined any further dealings with him. To make matters worse Kenya and Tanzania were drifting apart ideologically: Tanzania had embraced socialism while Kenya ventured on capitalism. Regrettably, after the collapse of EAC in 1977, the three member countries lost more than 60 years of cooperation and the benefits therein.

Cultural reintegration

Later, presidents Moi (Kenya), Museveni (Uganda) and Mwinyi (Tanzania) decided to move their countries towards increased economic cooperation. They met on November 30, 1993 and signed a Treaty for East African Cooperation in Arusha establishing the Tripartite Commission for Cooperation. The states once again embarked on political, economic, social and cultural reintegration. The heads of state finally succeeded in reviving the East African Cooperation on November 30, 1999 when the Treaty was signed and it came into force on July 7, 2000. The newly-established body had very ambitious plans — monetary union by 2004, the common currency by 2009, a common market and finally a political union.

The three principals in the expanded regional economic bloc performed admirably in generating the right environment for increased cooperation. They have, however, failed miserably to place capable individuals in Arusha with the vision, imagination and drive required in returning the EAC back to its past glory, particularly as the prime mover of the region’s unified economy. The only time when steady progress was realised in Arusha is during the tenure of Mr Francis Muthaura, when a firm foundation for the establishment of the East African Federation was laid down.

New policies

As it is now, an East African citizen hardly gets wind of the new policies being formulated in Arusha. Ironically, East Africans are often well versed with events in UK or the US than on happenings around the East African region.

For this reason, the Arusha Secretariat should embark on setting up a fully-fledged media centre to publicise the community and member state activities on a daily basis. This would facilitate a steady flow of information on events and developments in the key capitals in the region.

What we need in Arusha is a team able to restore the feeling of an East African identity among us all and churn out new policies to realise planned activities.

Arusha needs men and women ready to admit that the defunct EAC benefited immensely from the many years of our three countries cooperation. The days when even the means of travel would remind one of his East African roots, whether by air, road or rail.

The Arusha Secretariat should be fair: it is after attaining a similar level of East African self consciousness that you can run an opinion poll asking us whether we are ready for an East African Federation. Not now.