“Freedom isn’t free. It shouldn’t be a bragging point that “Oh, I don’t get involved in politics,” as if that makes you somehow cleaner. No, that makes you derelict of duty in a republic. Liars and panderers in government would have a much harder time of it if so many people didn’t insist on their right to remain ignorant and blindly agreeable.”- Bill Maher
I hate dates, I hate going on dates nowadays! They have a way of turning into heated political debates, somehow no matter how hard I try to just be a normal person, hold normal conversations, and actually be a lady about it, it ends up here, in the inside of politics! Well, I don’t hate politics, what I hate is the realization that I am now acutely aware that I probably may never be able to make a normal date for any normal charming fella. But wait… normalcy, just like perfection, has never been my first love and I tend to attract persons who can hold weird conversations for hours on the end. Perfect, just perfect when like poles attract..! 🙂
So, I finally meet up with a good friend of mine, a Canadian medic, who knows, or at least thinks he does know, more of Kenya and East Africa at large better than myself! I feel insulted already, but I’ll let him have his way this once! Naturally, we talk about pretty much anything, from God’s gender, to the perceived Color of Law, to Medicine, Race, Religion, Geo-politics, failed Relationships , how he hates love (ha ha!), why I hate African-neediness and reverence to the West as though they were a god of sorts..and so forth. At this point, it is safe to say, from how brutally honest and comfortable in our nakedness of thought and speech, we got issues, major issues! We also tend to always disagree on virtually everything,and i mean EVERYTHING! Except this once and the subject had to be EAST AFRICA! Yes, the big ambition that is the formation of a political federation of East Africa and the problem of the Integration process in East Africa.
First and foremost, just what is this federalism thing they’ve (East African leaders) been on about for years? Far as my understanding permits, federalism refers to a political organization in which two or more states agree to form a union government with central authority, while retaining their autonomy. It is basically a structured political arrangement amongst states that share a common vision of attaining common interests and objectives and a common, shared political jurisdiction is, more often than not, the ultimate goal. It is noteworthy that a political union calls for the surrendering of states’ sovereignty either in whole or partly to a central political governing unit.
The East African Community intends to attain a political federation eventually, albeit piecemeal, starting first with a customs union and followed by a monetary union. While all this may not be out-rightly unwelcome, the big question remains: just how realistic is this goal of achieving a political federation of East Africa? While I might consider myself an ambitious one with a knack for sheer devilry risk-taking antics, I am more concerned in not getting (in the hands of leadership of East African leaders) involved in a wild goose-chase. I don’t mean to be a pessimist but the odds don’t seem to be in favor of a political federation..not just yet..maybe never unless a few things are fixed. Here’s why:
1.)History so dictates
Moves towards the integration of East Africa were initiated long before my own grandparents were born, and even though I do not claim that the old sweethearts (two of whom have already left for the land yonder, R.I.P) are as old as Methuselah, I certainly do assert that they are not young either! The earliest moves towards an integrated East African region dates back to as early as 1894 when the British decided to start the construction of the railway running from Mombasa, Kenya to to Uganda. This move was purely for the benefit of the British who had colonized the region and had no such intention of integrating the region for the benefit of the “locals”, at least not the way the East African leaders envision it today. So it is safe to say that the first move towards an integrated East Africa, was a purely accidental one. Oh, beautiful accidents! Then followed the establishment of the Court of Appeal for East Africa in 1902, a postal union in 1911, a Customs Union in 1917 and finally the East African Currency Board in 1920, all by the British. After Tanganyika became a British mandate shortly after World War 1, and later merged with Zanzibar to form what we presently refer to as Tanzania, it was also gradually but surely absorbed into the above mentioned institutions. However, after the independence of the three East African states from British colonial rule, the East African Federation which was an attempt to form an economic cooperative failed to take off the ground and soar in that spirit of a united region due to a strong nationalism and conflicting priorities in matters economics and politics of the three countries. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the first and second phases (1894-1947, 1948-1966) aimed at integrating East Africa came to an end.
In 1967 the attempts to integrate East Africa were revived when the three countries formed The East African Community (EAC), an economic cooperative.The EAC also had five councils: the Common Market Council, the Communications Council, the Economic and Consultative and Planning Council, the Finance Council, and the Research and Social Council. There was also an East African Legislative Assembly, a Common Market Tribunal, and a Court of Appeal. But then again the community was soon overwhelmed by political strife, ideological rifts, and severe economic problems and in June 1977 the three member states simply could not agree on the EAC budget for the coming fiscal years, and as fate could have it the EAC for all intents and purposes collapsed. Long story short, it is clear from history that the region has unresolved issues that spell doom to the prosperity of any such political federation for it to thrive. This being the fourth attempt at creating a political federation, much strategizing and planning is needed or we are looking forward to recording yet another of East African failures this time amongst five states as Burundi and Rwanda have joined the circus!
2) The Legal Machinery is Wanting
Speaking of federations, they are children of well-drafted legal machinery otherwise they are dysfunctional! The treaty governing East African community has major loopholes, if you ask me. To point out but a few, the treaty does not define what a political federation of the region would eventually be. As one Ben Belassa identified, there are five ideals of integrations:
- The free trade ones in which the tariffs and quotas are eliminated among the members of integrating region.
- Customs union which involves the elimination of tariffs and quotas and also eliminates discriminatory tariffs by non-member countries by setting up common external tariffs.
- Establishment of a common market which entails the elimination of any obstacles for the free flow of labor and capital.
- Establishment of an economic community or union entailing the harmonisation of economic policies which may involve the introduction of a common currency.
- The highest form of integration is a political union where the structures and political institutions which harmonise policies also become harmonised and unified.
The treaty by not defining a political federation’s destination, is simply leaving room for conflict of ideologies and political strife. It is noteworthy the politics of political federations is not an easy thing to handle. Mark you countries in the European union are still struggling with the volatile issues of political cooperation. It particularly amuses me that the constitutions of the five countries are silent on the issue of a political federation. Is this an unspoken indication that this political federation story is just that- a story for our entertainment? I do not know!
3.) The process is leader-led
The main issue of concern as far as the East African federation is in question, has got to be that it is purely a leaders only affair! Most citizens in all five countries know nothing about it, and those who do are not even sure of what exactly they know! Then whom is the Federation to serve if the common watus remain oblivious of the same? Last time I checked access to public information was a Constitutional right, at least in Kenya! Not to say it is a purely secretive affair, but certainly not much effort has gone into ensuring the watus stay enlightened in this matter and that’s wrong! Unless of course it’s only for the political-elite class, in which case, that’s what I call abuse of power!
Maybe a good place to start would be by finding out if East Africans are desirous of a federation, or at least let them know why the same would be desirous!
4.) Political instability
Political instability and insecurity in the region should be the main agenda we seek to address first, otherwise, without managing our smaller political units, how on this earth will we succeed at managing a larger one? From Burundi to Kenya to Rwanda and rest of the region, we can neither talk of political stability nor security. If I am not complaining about the current situation in Burundi with a heart-wrenching rising toll of deaths reported following a disputed election outcome, I am worrying sick about the terror attacks targeting my motherland (Kenya)..and woe unto you if you’re seduced into thinking Uganda and Tanzania are any islands of peace, not at all, we are all fighting our own demons et cetera. Fix it all, somebody..anybody!
I could go on with points on why it is not yet time for a political federation in East Africa, but that is not to say I am against it altogether! No, not all. Let alone an East African Political Federation, I would hate to think that the pan-African unity dream is six-feet under with Col. Moammar Gaddafi of Libya! I still hope for a day that Africa would stand, turn around and re-write her own history and unite! That would be perfect but see, greatness comes piecemeal rather than overnight. And it all begins with eliminating the little hindrances such as political strife and ill-will. It also starts with being realistic in our goals and ambitions, it starts with including the people in affairs that affect them such as formation of federations, and it starts with you and I summoning the leaders to accountability. See,Irving M. Copi phrased it perfectly when he said, “the success of democracy depends, in the end, on the reliability of the judgments we citizens make, and hence upon our capacity and determination to weigh arguments and evidence rationally.”
..And as our coffee date ended, we both agreed that it is not yet time for a political federation of East Africa and it will not be ready till the above issues are ironed out and of course my list is far from being exhaustive, so that’s where YOU too realize that citizenship is not a right on a silver platter but rather a chance at responsibility (and identify more issues on the same that need addressing)!
Maybe my dates don’t suck that much after all!
“Kati ya nchi yako na serikali yako ni kitu gani unakipenda zaidi? Ipende zaidi nchi yako, kuliko serikali yako!”
― Enock Maregesi