Wednesday, January 12, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

January 12, 2011

There are situations that call for more common sense than written down logic. One such situation is the rotational occupation of the executive seat at the East African Community that takes place every five years. It is the kind of decision that really does not call for debate, jockeying or politicking among member states if indeed the players have read and understood the 1999 Treaty that established the East African Community.

Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania must understand one thing; when they admitted Burundi and Rwanda to the membership of the East African Community, they would either have their cake or eat it but not both. On that important day when the two states penned their signatures to the East African Treaty, the treaty was effectively altered to mean five member states not three as was originally intended. Founder members must have understood that henceforth the cake would be shared among five family members, not three as was the case before.

If the rotation has been smooth between 1999 and 2005 when Juma Mwapachu of Tanzania took the reins of the Secretariat, it would be illogical to expect a Kenyan to jostle for the same position for the second time before the new members who have proved their worth as effective and full contributors have had their chance. And for those that may forget, Rwanda has in the short time of its membership successfully chaired the Summit for one year with impressive results. And had it been for Burundi ceding its turn to Tanzania a year later, all the five states would have chaired the summit in the last five years.

What baffles many of us are press reports that Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda have ganged up to decide that the position should be competitive. This cheeky behaviour is introducing double standards in the community that should be engaging in more substantive issues of integrating the community. The post of the EAC Chief Executive has never been elective or competitive. The next occupant has always been nominated by a member state and endorsed by partners. It has been that simple.

There are some realities we must face as Kenyans, Ugandans and Tanzanians. If we want the Community to grow to the size of the ECOWAS, SADDC or the European Union, there are certain backward tendencies we must be prepared to discard. Today we are whining about who becomes the EAC Secretary General when we are just five states. What happens when Ethiopia, South Sudan, the DRC and the Central African Republic join us in the next five years as it is rumored that they have shown interest? Will we admit them in to the community but lock them out of important executive positions?

The argument that our new members do not have enough experience to run the Secretariat is hogwash. Being the Secretary General does not need a rocket scientist.

The last three SGs have had no special qualities other than being career civil servants in their own countries. To be precise, their most important qualifications were that they were politically correct in their countries.

The truth of the matter is; since Kenya offered the first Secretary General in 1999, it must now wait for 20 years to have another go. That time is 2021 assuming that other members do not join in between. By the same token, Uganda must wait until 2031 while Tanzania must be patient until 2041 if all factors remain constant.

But there is an even bigger reason why big brothers like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda must be careful how they handle sensitive issues like the appointment of a chief executive of the Community. They must realize that we are not out of the woods yet. Theories abound why the EAC of 1967 broke up 10 years later. Other than ideological and governance issues, foreign powers played a part in that break up.

Many envious international observers, fearful of an economic and political powerhouse once we are fully established, are watching keenly for an opportunity to cause rifts among the member states because they know we are still a fragile organization that depends on their donations to bridge our development budgets. It is easier for them plant negative perceptions in the minds of new members like Burundi and Rwanda or those states planning to join by pointing to them how founder members are behaving towards new member states.

When you see a cabinet minister of a member state buy space in the local press to protest the move by other member states against her country like the Rwandan Minister did this week; it is a warning shot that boardroom wars are finally finding their way into the public gallery.

If indeed member states want to make all positions of the EAC competitive; the fairest thing is for them to amend the 1999 Treaty and make all positions at the Secretariat open to all East Africans through competitive recruitment after 2031; that is after Rwanda and Burundi will have had their turn. By that time we shall hopefully have realized political and economic integration and declared the federal presidency and EALA elective posts with a fully fledged federal cabinet. Achieving this feat depends very much on our common sense, manners decency today.