Wednesday, February 2, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

February 2, 2011

The debate on the next EAC Secretary General won’t just go away. In a way it is healthy because I believe these discussions will inform the decision of the Heads of Member States when that time comes to pick Juma Mwapachu’s successor.

However, at the regional level as East African citizens, we should be concerned at the slow pace of passing laws in our national assemblies; laws that should domesticate and operationalize the EAC protocols such as the Common Market that was launched in July 2010. Without domesticating these protocols on time, it is very easy for technocrats to circumvent them with impunity even if the Council of Ministers and Summit members have made their pronouncements.

The debate in Nairobi by EALA on which country should offer the next Secretary General has opened a genuine weakness within the EAC structure. It would appear as if there are never enough consultations with the East African Legislative Assembly and the EAC Secretariat. If there was, two things would have happened.

One, the Speaker and the Clerk of the Regional Assembly would have known that the post of Secretary General is not open to debate either by national assemblies or the EALA because the Treaty is clear that it is rotational but more importantly, it is the prerogative of the Summit members and that no other EAC organ has any role to play in such an appointment. Secondly, if the Secretariat knew in advance that the issue would crop up at the EALA sitting in Nairobi; it would have prepared a comprehensive response to clarify the issue for the benefit of all East Africans. Unfortunately, both scenarios were not anticipated and dealt with appropriately.

Right now what is dragging the implementation of the integration timelines is the slow pace of the Executive arms of government in the five states. As they drag their feet in domesticating regional laws which are mainly commercial in nature, their juniors are way ahead in clearing more milestones for integration.

A case in point is the Common Market Protocol that was signed in July 2010 with a promise that it would be operational six months down the line. Those six months came and passed without any meaningful freedom of movement of people, goods and services. Immigration and Customs officials are still busy tormenting East Africans. They are still busy asking the same questions they asked thirty years ago to nationals of member states. And to tell you the truth; the only people for whom the borders have been opened are the EAC Secretariat personnel, senior government officials, permanent secretaries, ministers and heads of state.

As things stand now, debate on the common currency and the monetary union have started in earnest in Arusha even as we still struggle to operationalize the six year old Customs Union and the seven month old Common Market protocol.

These drawbacks need serious overhaul of the EAC structures so that its various organs can be strengthened to move it forward. One way of doing this is to set up a special cabinet of the East African ministers who do not double up as ministers in their own countries complete with their permanent secretaries and other staff. They should all be based in Arusha. And they don’t have to be bloated like some of our national cabinets.

This is no new ground because that was the formula the old EAC had before it collapsed in 1977. Secondly, we need a stronger East African Legislative Assembly and an authoritative East African Court of Appeal.

If the two institutions are empowered, it would mean that all laws passed at the Regional Assembly will automatically be binding to all member states and any violation can be dealt with by an authoritative East African Court of Appeal.

It may be remembered that what the older generation of East Africans remember most is that there can be no meaningful integration if citizens of member states are still caged behind the iron curtains of their own countries. Until freedom of movement of persons is made a reality, all the high sounding statements at international conferences with donors will remain just that.

We cannot convincingly talk of regional economic integration to a European Union forum when a simple thing like agreeing to use a common currency becomes an issue. Until we start feeling embarrassed carrying the Euro, US dollar or the British pound in our pockets whenever we cross our borders next door, we will not move this region forward.

A few years ago, I visited a small town called Rumbek in Southern Sudan. At that time the CPA had just been signed and was already in operation. What shocked me was that the only tented hotel in town was selling Kenyan beer and the currency of exchange was the Kenyan shilling. Right next to the hotel was the Kenya Commercial Bank that had just been opened. I was informed that if I was coming to Rumbek direct from Nairobi, I would not need to carry any other foreign currency because my Kenyan shilling was good enough.

The reason Rumbek accepted Kenyan currency was partly because most of the Sudanese that had returned had lived in Kenya and did not mind the Kenyan currency as they sorted out their thorny relations with North Sudan.

In a nutshell, all these negotiations on the Customs Union, Common Market and the Common Currency need more than law and political correctness. The ability to negotiate, see the good in our neighbour and avoid being suspicious of our neighbours’ intentions can take us very far.