When Presidents Daniel Arap Moi, Benjamin Mkapa and Yoweri Museveni finally committed their signatures to a new East African Community charter in 2000 at a colourful ceremony in Arusha, Tanzania, East Africans became a very hopeful lot. They remembered with nostalgia the common services they used to share when they were one community before independence and a few years after. More importantly they longed for the days when they would use one currency known as the East African shilling to travel across borders without any worry. In those days the borders were open 24/7 and there were no border police, customs or immigration officials to demand travel documents from East Africans.
At the Arusha signing ceremony, our leaders committed themselves to full economic and political integration by 2015. They would realize the Customs Union in 2005, the Common Market in 2010, Monetary Union in 2012 and the complete political union in 2015
Sometime in 2004 when Moi had retired and Ben Mkapa was about to leave the scene, there was a summit meeting in Nairobi that resolved to fast track the political integration. The thinking at that time was that the more the process dragged on, the more it would be difficult to move forward as fatigue and loss of enthusiasm would set in. For this reason, the summit set up a task force that was chaired by Kenya’s then Attorney General to go round the region, collect views from opinion leaders, businessmen and professionals on the best way to fast-track the political integration. I was one of those professionals who was consulted.
Wako’s committee produced its report that was discussed by the summit that resulted in creating the post of Deputy Secretary General in charge of political integration. The office became operational in 2005.
The same year that the office of political integration was created, the EAC realized its first objective- the Customs Union.
However, despite again attaining a second pillar – that is the Common Market protocols being signed, East Africans today are still far from integrating just as they were in 2000. Why do I say this?
Since the commencement of the Customs Union that was supposed to ease trade among the member states, there is nothing to show that anything has changed one bit. I may have not travelled to all border points between member states but if my observations at the Namanga border post are anything to go by then we have not moved one bit. Traffic congestion at the border and mundane border officials are still asking the same useless questions they asked two decades ago.
Kenyans crossing the border into Tanzania are still regarded as foreigners to be suspected. The Tanzanian authorities still relish in apprehending Kenyan businessmen for all manner of excuses and deporting them if necessary, never mind that borders were supposed to be opened and free movement of people, goods and services should have been effected on July 1 2010.
As we ready ourselves for the common currency this coming July, East Africans are becoming more and more apprehensive if indeed the long awaited East African currency will be a reality. With some member states violating signed protocols with wanton impunity, how will they cede their most guarded sovereignty by foregoing their local currencies? Will there be concurrence on what images to appear on the regional currency?
The other day South Sudan and Sudan applied for membership of the Community. Whereas Sudan was disqualified on a technicality, South Sudan got the nod from the five member states. And with a new conflict looming between South and North Sudan, will the EAC be sucked into the conflict? If indeed the South North Sudan conflict goes on as Kenya joins the AMISOM to fight Al Shabaabs in Mogadishu, will all these costly ventures interfere with the EAC integration time table?
However, the biggest threat to our regional integration is our fear and suspicion of one another. Since 1977, the elite in our region have never embraced one another. The 1977 breakup of the EAC gave birth to a fierce nationalism that to this day has never left us.
Whenever we have a meeting of national representatives, we spend a lot of time and energy trying to score points defending our turf on none issues at the expense of major issues facing the community. For example; can anyone explain to me why since the Customs Union protocols were ratified in 2004, we still find it difficult to implement it eight years later?
Can someone tell East Africans why since July 2010 when the Common Market protocols became effective, we still arrest nationals of member states for being in our territory illegally?
Why is Tanzania still insisting on work permits for Kenyans working in companies that are cross-listed in Tanzania? Why can’t we be honest and say we are not interested in regional integration and opt for good neighbourliness and become good trading partners without cracking our heads on issues that we may never realize in our lifetime?
Perhaps Beatrice Kiraso the EAC Deputy Secretary General in charge of Political Integration knows something we do not know.