Thursday, March 25, 2010



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya.
March 24, 2010

It was on November 30th 2009 when the protocol for the East African Common Market was signed with pomp and high octane political statements. The venue was the all symbolic Arusha International Conference Center that also houses the East African Community. However, four months later and just three months to the commencement day, less and less is being heard about the Common Market in any of the five capitals.

The reasons are easy to understand. Interested parties are still grappling with the impact of full implementation of the Customs Union that came into effect on January 1, 2010 despite protests from some business communities in Uganda and Tanzania. This group wanted the full implementation delayed for another five to ten years as they tried to catch up with their market leader, Kenya. And had it not been for the timely intervention of Presidents Jakaya Kikwete and Yoweri Museveni, East Africans would have made several steps backwards.

The reason the EAC Common Market is not receiving a lot of attention in Kenya and Uganda is easy to understand. Of late there have been too many attention grabbing headlines in Uganda and Kenya.

In Uganda, first we had the Baganda riots that rocked the country after an abortive royal visit of the Kabaka to some of his perceived loyalist regions. That confrontation had far reaching consequences and its effects are still felt in Uganda to this day considering that some of the broadcast stations that belong to the Kingdom are still off air to this day.

Following that riot that put Uganda in the limelight locally and abroad, Uganda has witnessed a series of killings in its university campuses that were not necessarily politically motivated. However, the fact that the National Assembly took time off to debate especially the killing of Kenyan students at Makerere was good reason enough to divert public attention from the more serious issues such as the Common Market.

But the killer news story that rocked Uganda was the fire that gutted the 130 year burial grounds of the kings of Baganda. Seen as the work of deranged arsonists or political opponents of the Baganda kingdom depending on which political divide one was on, it was an act of national tragedy that almost paralleled the bombing of the Kabaka’s palace in 1966 when the then king of Buganda fell out with Prime Minister Milton Obote. With all these bad things happening to Uganda in quick succession, they could be forgiven for relegating the Common Market to the back banners.

On its part, the Kenyan political class has probably not paid much attention to the Common Market since its launch in November last year simply because since 2008 when the Coalition government was formed, the nation has not been at peace with itself.

The accord ushered in many institutional and political challenges that the political leadership is still grappling with two years later. First the electoral commission had to be disbanded and a new one appointed by parliament. Then there was the special tribunal to be set up to try warlords that killed more than a thousand Kenyans in the aftermath of the 2007 elections.

When the leadership failed to set up a local tribunal, the ICC in The Hague took over, a decision that has caused permanent panic and anxiety among the top political leadership.

As The Hague trials have continued to hang on the heads of the political class, other reforms have taken their toll on Kenyans. Chief among them has been the ever unending constitution review which has lasted two decades. And as I write this article, the process has finally entered the National Assembly for debate before it goes to the referendum.

The truth of the matter is that until Kenyans get rid of the referendum in July or August 2010, with the Budget in between around June 2010, very little other business will go on in Kenya. The more reason the Common Market issue may be relegated to the back banners as is the case in Kampala.

Nationally, Kenya is a country in a major political transition. If the constitution is promulgated later this year, we will have a lame duck president and a moribund government because the act will put the country on an election mode for the 2012 battle because as it is, there are no less than ten aspirants that have already declared their interest in the big office.

So what happens as Uganda and Kenya gear up for elections in 2011 and 2012? The onus must fall on Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi to keep the fires of the Common Market burning. Without that fallback position, left to Kenya and Uganda, we will not move with the speed that East Africa needs to realize full economic integration in 2012 or 2015.