“Integration is more than five presidents meeting in Arusha and patting their backs on an illusionary integration” –
As we speak there is an East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) Symposium taking place in Arusha, Tanzania themed: “A Decade of Service towards a Political Federation”.
Now, I may not have been born in the Seventies, but I’ve heard stories of how things were especially between my country and its neighbours. The most vivid accounts were of the icy relations between Kenya and Tanzania. Relations hit their lowest ebb in the mid 1970s. At one time, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was so frustrated by the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s capitalist economic policies, he angrily described the Kenyan leadership as being made up of “nyang’aus” (‘hyenas’) and the country as a ‘man-eat-man’ society. This description has stuck, the mistrust and mismatch of ideologies and practice has persisted till this very day.
As for our other neighbour Uganda, we have all witnessed the on-going dispute over the Migingo and Ugingo islands. I didn’t know what big of a deal it was until Museveni arrived at our Promulgation ceremony last year and he was pelted with boos and chants of “Migingo is ours!”
That said we were all filled with hope in the EAC, when the Common Market was officially launched around this time last year (remember the google doodle? Awesomeness!). But a political federation is a whole different ball-game. A federation is ofcourse a worthy goal but it calls for a bold and visionary leadership by the five Heads of State to succeed. For, beyond greater economic integration, it requires political will and unity of purpose. That is where the catch lies.
Are the political leaders of the five countries capable of matching their well-intentioned sentiments with concrete action to integrate the five countries politically?
And at that very moment, I remember just what this creature called a politician is, and the catastrophic harm it is capable of.
I believe that the East African is traditionally humble, peaceful and affable – until he is convinced by some ambitious and power-hungry politician that another tribe, race or in this case nationality is out to dish itself a lion’s share of the EA’s resources. The politician will graphically paint images of the doom that will result if the “people being fooled” do not take up arms against their perceived “enemy”.
Therefore, I think there must be a strong emphasis on civic education in the EAC’s plan of action of getting EA to form a Federation.
The civic education campaign must particularly target misplaced and misguided suspicions, mistrust and petty jealousies being promoted by short-sighted small-time politicians in our region. This process must seek to empower the people of the region to take their destiny into their own hands rather than succumb to the whims of their political leaders. Such baseless and pejorative stereotypes have in the past denied us our birthright togetherness for too long. East Africans must be made to understand that politicians come and go no matter how great they may be but our region will always be there for our posterity. We must leave behind a positive legacy for our children and great grand-children.
This civic education should be followed by a referendum in each partner state and only those states that will have overwhelmingly voted for it should be the ones given a chance to federate. Those who reject it it the first time have to be given a few more years to reconsider their decision. No State should be bullied into the union without majority of its people conceding.
At the moment we must continue to support the EAC and its committed Secretariat as they deal with the nuts and bolts that will hopefully bind Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda as one. Inevitably, we as East Africans must be willing to embrace the idea of becoming one great, indivisible Federation of East Africa!