Friday, August 19, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

August 17, 2011

Two days ago, I got a call from a friend in Dar es Salaam. She was raving mad because of failure of her government to regulate the oil industry. Like in Kenya and Uganda, and possibly Rwanda and Burundi, ordinary citizens are daily bearing the burden of high fuel prices, sky-rocketing commuter transport, prices of basic commodities and of course food. What irked her most was that three days earlier, the government of Tanzania had ordered the reduction of fuel pump prices and even threatened dealers with closure if they didn’t comply. Within that week, Parliament joined the fight and issued a stinging warning to would be violators of this new Executive Order.

To the utter dismay of my friend and thousands of Tanzanians, the order to reduce fuel pump prices was quickly rescinded by the same government without explanation. The cartel of foreign oil vendors had won the day.

In Kenya, the situation is not any different if not worse. What we thought was a celebration six months ago has come to haunt us. The very regulator of the oil industry that was set up to control the cartel has turned out to be working for the same cartel under the pretext that the world oil market has been volatile. Six months ago, our super oil was costing Ksh 80.00 per litre. The same litre today costs us Ksh 120.00, a good 25% increase in the last six months.

Just the other day, Ugandans were crying to their government to remove taxes on fuel products. The reply was that if such a move was made and prices came down, fuel would vanish from petrol stations just as it happened in Tanzania last week. Cartels have a way of twisting the arm of any government especially where regulators have weak or unenforceable laws.

The economic situation in East Africa is not going to be better any time soon. Our governments should be lucky that we have no capacity to riot for weeks and even months when we feel let down by them. Our governments don’t seem to learn from the riots in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Britain, Syria and now Israel of all countries. They don’t seem to think that such possibilities despite the global economic turmoil are possible in our region.

What bothers some of us is that instead of focusing on issues that matter most such as regional integration, perfecting the Common Market and Customs Union before adopting a common currency, we are busy deploying troops to a tiny rocky island called Migingo that Kenya and Uganda are haggling about.

It is true Kenya believes Migingo is in Kenya as much as Uganda believes the same. What baffles many of us is why we make this rocky one- acre island a point of dispute for years even as our leaders meet every year to move towards one region. Why fight over the island when we are busy putting structures in place to free our citizens to move freely, live freely and trade freely across the region?

What example are the two senior most partners of the EAC giving to new comers like Rwanda and Burundi? Aren’t we scaring off future members such as South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia with our sibling rivalry that does not seem to end?

The East African Community has structures in place that can deal with such disputes without deploying troops from the two countries on the island where there is no room even for a police post. This Migingo menace can be resolved as an item at one of the several summits our presidents continue to hold after every six months. Better still; the EAC has an institution called the East African Court of Justice. Why can’t the aggrieved parties hand over the matter to the law courts so that our leaders can concentrate on the more pressing issues affecting their citizens?

East Africa badly needs infrastructure to connect the five member states with Sudan. When a few weeks ago South Sudan got its independence, we all celebrated and wetted our appetites that at last oil from the South would pass through our territories and of course make life bearable for us. Unfortunately, weeks have passed without embarking on concrete actions to actualize the railway line, roads, oil pipeline from Juba to Lamu or Mombasa to give the new nation a reliable outlet to the world. We are still busy haggling over Migingo and deploying troops to guard a piece of rock in the middle of Lake Victoria.

Why can’t presidents Kikwete, Kagame and Nkurunziza see the need to intervene and read the riot act to these two siblings? It is ironical that countries that go for joint security meetings in Arusha can end up doing exactly the opposite of what a joint security meeting should achieve.