Enlightened Self-Interest: Towards An East African Federation

“Integration is more than five presidents meeting in Arusha and patting their backs on an illusionary integration” – Ahmednasir Abdullahi Anonymous

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?

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Kenya’s Proposed Constitution: The Good, The Bad and The Ugali

Sometime in the last decade (’97 to be exact), former president Moi rhetorically asked, in one of his infamous road-side declarations, whether filling the vacant position of Vice-President (by either re-appointing Saitoti or appointing someone else) would add plates of ugali to Kenyan homes.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard this same ‘ugali’ phrase being used by some of the politically apathetic/cynical/indifferent/non-voter’s-card-having folk I hang out with vis-a-vis the proposed constitution. If I understand them correctly, this constitutional making process is nothing more than another political game of wits that has nothing to do with creating a new legal and social order for Kenya. Therefore they argue that the proposed Constitution, if it passes, will not make a difference to: a) their lives; and b) to the average Kenyan.

Of course I beg to differ with those propositions. How it will make a difference to all these naysayers depends on them. Does the proposed Constitution provide an environment for them to set up and run their businesses and hence get more ugali? I’d argue Yes. But that also depends on how it affects the ordinary Kenyan.

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