East African Community: once bitten twice shy

Nairobi- Kenya (PANA) -- Only last week, authorities in Tanzania expelled more than 1,000 Ugandans believed to be living in the country illegally, with Dar es Salaam reports saying the "aliens" were rounded up in the Kagera and Kigoma regions on the borders with Uganda and Rwanda.
The regions, according to Tanzanian officials, provide a haven to the endless influx of refuges not only from the two countries but strife-torn Burundi and DR Congo as well.
"We are carrying out a thorough search for foreigners who are living in our region illegally," a Police Commissioner John Tuppa was quoted as saying, adding "the aim of the exercise is to curb the rise in crime.
" But critics have been quick to slam the action coming barely a week before the inauguration of the East African Parliament in the Tanzanian town of Arusha.
"As a sovereign state, Tanzania has every right to evict undesirable immigrants from its territory, but one would have expected that being host to the EAC and with the programmed inauguration of the community next week, the authorities would shelve that decision at least for the time being," a Kenyan commentator said Sunday.
Others add that while Tanzania deserved support and commendation for providing refuge to more than one million people displaced by the conflicts in neighbouring countries, the move raises serious questions regarding its commitment the ideals of the Community.
But Dar es Salaam has other worries.
Its politicians and civic society representatives are already picking holes in some of the envisaged institutions of the Community, especially the customs union and a common market.
Calling for caution, their designated representatives to the sub regional Parliament say the country's economy should be brought at par with those of Kenya and Uganda before the measures can me implemented.
The EAC's ambition is to institute a customs union that would lead up to a common market and a political federation of East African States.
Incidentally, all three states have been at loggerheads over the exploitation of fisheries and other resources of Lake Victoria that is shared unequally by them.
Given this scenario, one begins to wonder if the revived EAC is not headed for the rocks even before it takes off.
The impression is one of a group of hunters who have sited game and immediately begin to argue on who would take which chunk of meat even before the beast is slaughtered.
Chances are that the animal would escape while the debate goes on.
East Africa used to be a model of Africa's search for integration until 1977 when the initial East African Community collapsed for very flimsy reasons.
The original EAC took off in the sixties on very solid grounds with common services and utilities, which British colonial authorities had used effectively in their exploitation of the region.
These included the East African Airways, Posts and Telecommunications Corporation, Railways Corporation, Harbours Corporation, and Power and Lighting Company, among others.
More than any other region of the continent, the countries share so much in common that the stalemate in forging a homogenous geo- political entity reduces the talk of African Unity or African Union to a big joke.
This great potential for integration largely explains the euphoria that greeted the revival of the EAC, especially in this 21st century when globalisation has made nonsense of the concept of nation-states.
But a cursory look of the new regional body gives the picture of a mere shadow of the original, guided merely by a framework of economic considerations defined by the governments.
For instance, the Legislative Assembly to be inaugurated 30 November is constituted of 27 individuals elected by the national parliaments to which they would have to report.
They are not directly elected representatives of the people with legislative powers that would be binding on the polity.
The Regional House also includes five ex-officio members consisting of the minister responsible for regional cooperation from each state as well as a Secretary-General and Community Counsel.
Most glaringly absent in the structure are the people, the 82 million or so East Africans who inhabit the region.
Given this scenario, what is likely to remerge after a quarter- century of the demise of the East African Community is a pseudo structure that would easily pass as Community of East African Governments.
Records attribute the failure of the EAC to the incompatibility of political ideologies in the countries at the time, and the personality clash between its leaders.
There was also talk of the different levels of development of the countries involved, which has not changed much.
For sure, all three countries have opened up to political pluralism with free market economies pursued by their leaders who are not likely to bring down the edifice over flimsy personality cults.
But these can hardly provide a guarantee for a sustainable regional grouping capable of standing the test of time.
Therefore, what East African needs is a people-driven community with the energy to engineer production and development of the area for the benefit of its citizens and the larger African community.
This should be the primary concern of the Honourable legislators in the Arusha Parliament, for as the saying goes, once bitten, twice shy.

25 november 2001 18:22:00

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