Thursday, July 1, 2010



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

July 1, 2010

There is something that many East Africans may never know. Thirty three years is a long time unless one was there and old enough to know.

As we ushered in the new East African Common Market this week, two important dates in our history must not go unnoticed. These dates are found in June and July 1977.

On Friday June 10 1977, the East African Community Budget committee met to approve the 1977-1978 Estimates. That meeting ended in disarray following a disagreement over the control of the Community resources. One of the culprits was Kenya that demanded more say in many organs of the EAC based on its annual budgetary contributions.

What the Budget Committee did not know was that failure to approve the Estimates on that day was the beginning of the collapse of the entire structure of the EAC.

And so it came to pass that exactly three weeks after the failure to approve the budget, on Friday July 1 1977, the Community was paralyzed for lack of an operating budget.

On that day, Kenya shot the first salvo by grounding all operations of the common services originating from Kenya. These were the Kenya Railways and Harbours, East African Airways, East African Road Services, East African Posts and Telecommunications and several common services.

In retaliation, Tanzania and Uganda also grabbed whatever assets that were in their territories with borders temporarily closed.

It was a day of inconvenience to East Africans and foreign visitors alike. There were no flight connections from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam and Kampala for several days if not weeks. All international flights were suspended. Short of stating it, East African States were on high alert because anything like a declaration of war was possible.

Being a Friday, I went to the Hotel Intercontinental at the then famous Big Five bar where Captains Steve Rapuoda, Joe Opere, Jim Ouma, Joash Onyango and several East African Airways staff were gathered. My brother in law, Captain Rapuoda had invited me there for a drink as they pondered their future now that their employer was no more.

At that moment, many people had varied opinions why the Community had collapsed. While some blamed the Kenyatta regime for its greed and arrogance for the comfort of the rest of the partner states, others thought that the EAC had started going downhill when soldier Idi Amin had toppled the Obote government way back in 1971.

Since then, things had grown from bad to worse with Amin threatening territorial integrities of Kenya and Tanzania from time to time. Whereas Idi Amin’s government knew no bounds, his insulting epithets to Mwalimu Nyerere were bound to reach tipping point at some point one way or the other. For him to have teased Nyerere that he would marry him was the height of arrogance that he would later pay for very dearly.

His claim that a good chunk of Kenyan territory, running all the way from Busia to Naivasha belonged to him sent Jomo Kenyatta in a fit of anger. In fury, Kenyatta called massive rallies all over the country warning Amin that his "nyokonyoko" would not be tolerated by Kenyans. Amin backed down and never mentioned Kenyan territory again.

Whereas Tanzanians blamed Kenyans for the breakup of the EAC due to their man-eat-man mentality, Charles Njonjo retorted that there was nothing that Kenyans could gain from a man- eat- dog society such as Tanzania. To Njonjo, Nyerere’s socialist policies had made it impossible to harmonize the economic policies of East Africa.

Although the atmosphere at the Big Five was that of apprehension especially among our friends from East African Airways that contemplated their future; for the majority of us just getting out of college, it was difficult to fathom the magnitude of what had just happened. Suddenly it dawned on me that I could no longer just jump into a steamer, a train or a bus and travel freely to the two East African states as I had done in my childhood.

The collapse of the EAC on that Friday in July had far reaching impact for Kenyans beyond our borders. Many families like my uncles that had moved and settled in Sanaki and Kiabakari parts of Musoma region for decades were forced to reconsider their continued stay in their country of adoption that had suddenly changed.

The policy of Ujamaaism didn’t make things any better as ordinary peasants that had enjoyed their freedom tilling their farms were forced into communal villages as the Arusha Declaration dictated. Finally, for those Kenyans that were unable to adjust to the new changes, coupled with new hostilities from their neighbors of decades; chose to relocate to Kenya at the earliest opportunity.