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Wanted: EAC Candle, the flag can’t hold

Is it time to expect the unexpected?  “I have no clue,” wonders East African Community (EAC) Secretary General, Dr. Liberat Mfumukeko. Heads of State of the six member countries have snubbed celebrations to mark their 20-year partnership. What next?

Indigenous African knowledge has a possible clue. Thunder strikes where it has hit before.  In the literary world, we read: “History repeats itself”. Is the 172 million East African people’s cherished “Community” now likely in for another death threat? God forbid.

One need not envy Dr. Mfumukeko on the overtime hours he spent or energy and effort he put in to ‘dry clean’ the present six-member economic bloc outfit, removing all possible creases, as DRC’s application hangs on the hook.   

In the first instance, even on the grassroots’ community level, how does one ably explain, beyond mutual distrust, the absence of top leaders from a ceremony to celebrate an extended family anniversary?  

This is hurdle number one. To the EAC family heads constitute the Heads of State of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, translating into what is called “The Summit.” Two decades is not long for any economic grouping. But the original EAC lasted only ten. This one has survived twice the years.

But already signs, the likes of those that killed the predecessor, sending it to limbo for another then before ‘resurrection’, are already emerging. The first grouping died because “The Authority”, which we call “The Summit” today, could not meet.

Why? This was mainly, because the late Tanzania President Julius Nyerere could not sit on the same table with Uganda’s Iddi Amin. And Nyerere had nothing to hide on this. Even on international gatherings, he made sure this did not happen.

Another reason was the emergence of a greedy and selfish aviation business clique in the ranks of one East African country’s bureaucrats. This led to the collapse of the East African Airways (EAA) Corporation in March 1977, ahead of the EAC disintegration in October of the same year. Uganda and Tanzania also went to war, leading to the fall of Iddi Amin.

Today’s picture is even more complicated. It is digital, so to say – the reason why Dr. Mfumukeko, could be seen as trying to act as the EAC Summit PR on one side, while, on the other, trying to endure the overwhelming economic-politico weight real demands on the ground. At times one wonders where he gets that much tensile strength from.

So come Saturday, November 30th, this year, all East Africans, except their presidents – The Summit—will be celebrating two decades of the Community. What will they be celebrating?

Dr. Mfumukeko hinted at the celebrations’ launch on benefits that have come along with the integration agenda.  He cited the visa provision making it easier for students and professionals to move within the region. All heart-related problems in East African can now be handled internally at the Muhimbili National Hospital-based facility in Tanzania; while an equally competent service was being worked upon in Nairobi, Kenya, for kidneys.

He highly praised the level of work performed from the bloc’s perspective in terms of infrastructure development. Dr. Mfumukeko touched on new developments in this sector such as the raising of $ 800 million for a road project linking Malindi in Kenya with Bagamoyo in Tanzania and $2.5 billion for putting in a place a highway opening up links between areas in Rwanda and Western Tanzania.

In an explanation that raised more questions than answers, Dr. Mfumukeko failed to explain to the East Africans and development partners looking forward to the EAC Summit reasons for the postponement to sometime in January, February, next year.

“I have no clue…We have not received a letter from any country…We were just informed by Rwanda that the Summit has been postponed…”

This puts a blob on the EAC, although SG Mfumukeko says the celebrations will go ahead as planned without the participation of the Heads of State. And what does this mean? The Summit agenda says it all.

There will be no top-level self-assessment on the EAC performance. Stalled review of the EAC’s Common External Tariff and the single currency regime for regional integration will remain un-addressed. The deteriorating trade and diplomatic ties between Uganda and Rwanda will remain a thorn in the back of the EAC when Rwanda is the current Summit chairman.

With or without the External Tariff, intra-East Africa trade has been declining due to non-tariff barriers and rising imports from Asia. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), intra-EAC trade fell from $3.5 billion in 2013 to $2.4 billion in 2017.

Reading between the lines, what does one see? The East African Business Council (EABC) will hold its planned discussions about and make recommendations to the EA Council of Ministers. After that what because the Summit won’t be there to play its scheduled role?

The East African leaders seem to harbour some deviation. They have fallen more in love with a political confederation than the federation, which is currently on the EAC’s drawing board as per the reigning treaty.

The Federation formula, of course, makes more demands on the members than the confederation. One can stay out of a confederation. Under the guidance of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, a committee of 18 experts is supposed to draft a constitution towards the lesser demanding set up.

The Museveni philosophy is one of looking at the region’s security besides economic integration. This stands the chance of making better sense to Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, who survived a coup while on regional integration talks about four years ago.

A very interesting surprise is what makes Kagame and Museveni repel? Both are virtually birds of the feather. Kagame was once upon a time the Museveni chief of intelligence. They did a lot together, ranging from invading the homeland, helping remove presidents from power.

Chances are they suffer from mutual distrust. They know each other too much maybe. There are reports of their fighters facing each other in the DRC. Both are said to have supported the late DRC’s President Laurent Kabila to depose Mobutu for failing to stop Rwandan refugees from using DRC as a base but later turned tables on him.

Politics in East Africa is not as simple as it reads on paper. “It is the one who knows you who kills you,” as an African saying goes.  

It is here that the Easter Virgil hymn of “Exultet iam agelica turba celorum…” –a very lengthy but meaningful proclamation made before a lit candle might help provide the East African Community cures.

candle 2

 A conference of US Catholic bishops took the following partial translation: “…The sanctifying power of this night; dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty…”

Could this candle be what is needed to replace the failing flags for the EAC way forward? 

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Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment. He was the first Tanzanian Chief Sub-Editor of an English daily newspaper in 1970, he has been behind the establishment and growth of the national independent media since the early 1990s. He is UNFAO Fellow Journalist since 1975 and has wide experience on regional integration. He worked on the Information Directorate of the original East African Community on whose ashes survive the current one. His ambition is to brand Tanzania in the inbound market with made-in-Tanzania brands, including information, almost all of which is currently foreign brewed.

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