Wednesday, June 17, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
June 17, 2009

It was gratifying that for the first time in the history of this region, four partner states out of five harmonized their budget days and presented them concurrently in their respective parliaments. One hopes that a year from now, Burundi will join the four member states and do the same next year.

Having said that, I must hasten to say that this article will not attempt to analyze the technical details of our regional budgets because it is not its mandate to do so. That task belongs to economists and other budget experts well versed in the details of such complex documents as national business plans.

My interest in this year’s regional budgets is in their emphasis on regional infrastructure which if implemented as projected, will increase mobility of persons, goods and services across our borders.On the back of this increased activity, will ride trade across our borders with resultant economic growth and empowerment for everybody.

The grapevine has it that Tanzania plans to build a railway line that will link Kigali and Dar es Salaam directly. If this happens, Kigali will be blessed to have two direct networks between Kigali, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam. Of course the Mombasa line will pass through Kampala; its most sensible connection but so what?

According to the Kenyan budget, Uhuru Kenyatta was categorical that trade between Kenya and its landlocked neighbors in the West could no longer be trusted to the old and dilapidated 20th Century colonial Uganda Railway that the British built for the exploitation of the hinterland. For this reason, a modern, fast and electric powered railway line will have to be constructed from Mombasa to the Kenya Uganda border in the hope that the Kampala regime will see the need to construct their part of the line from either Busia or Malaba to their capital, whichever will make economic sense to the people of both countries.

The other infrastructural project in the pipeline is the Arusha – Athi River road dual carriage way that has already been commissioned. With funding from the African Development Bank and other international agencies, this road should ease traffic between Kenya and Tanzania and increase the volume of trade between the two sister states.

However, despite these good signs of regional infrastructural integration, unless the East African Community moves fast to secure the Common Market dream for the region, these heavy investments will not yield their full potential. East Africans need to be completely freed to move around and consider the whole region their home without fear of arrests and unnecessary intimidation.

East Africans need to drive their cars and tracks across their borders freely as long as they hold the region’s passport or Identity Card, a driving license and as long as the motor vehicle bears the registration numbers of any of the member states of the East African Community. This is what I experienced in South East Asia nearly 20 years ago as I crossed the Malaysian border into Singapore. It is the same good feeling I go through when I travel across states in West Africa with my colleagues from that region. Only that I’m subjected to border immigration checks as they sail through unperturbed.

The sad part is that as we yearn for our borders to be freed, all the regions in the world that now enjoy such freedom were decades behind us in the 1960s and ‘70s during our days as the East African Common Services when all our infrastructure services were common services and our currency was one East African Shilling. In those days, workers in the East African Railways& Harbors, Roads and Services, Power and Lighting, Post and Telecommunications, the East African Development Bank, Soroti East African Flying School and the East African Airways felt a sense of brotherhood that can only be a dream to the present generation.

In those good old days, Migingo Island was always there with its fish yet nobody felt it could be a point of dispute. In those days the vast lands of Tanzania were still there and intact, yet the East Africans that traversed the region never thought of grabbing it Kenyan style. People respected the laws of respective member states. Those who broke the law were punished according to the law.

Yes, as we allocate huge budgets to infrastructure in our region, let us get rid of the most deterrent impediment to our development. Let us get rid of unnecessary fear, suspicion and jealousy among us as neighbors. Let us as leaders encourage the spirit of sharing of our resources, knowledge and expertise in every aspect of our lives. It is the only way we will ever grow and progress as a people of our region.