EAC is dying, but hey, our porkbarrel politics lives on

Tuesday February 14 2017


By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Is East Africa, particularly the legislative assembly sitting in Arusha, becoming a hot ticket?

If you are new to regional politics, you would think so from the Uganda elections for the East African Legislative Assembly.

At a meeting held at State House, Entebbe, Uganda’s Daily Monitor reported, “The caucus of the ruling National Resistance Movement [Tuesday] descended into a war of words, threats of fist fights, noise and chaos… at the beginning of vote tallying for candidates vying for East African Legislative Assembly seats on the…[NRM] ticket.”

Video clips showed party elders struggling to impose order amid wild scenes, without success. Eventually, the proceedings were postponed to the next day.

It was remarkable considering it all took place in President Yoweri Museveni’s house, where he usually runs business with an iron hand. He was not visible, though, on the first day of the madness.

In the caucus of the main opposition Forum for Democratic Change, the scene was no different, with the party failing to settle on its representative as losers rejected the vote outcome.

In Tanzania and Rwanda, the EALA elections won’t go down the drain so dramatically, though Kenya which, like Uganda, is addicted to chaotic politics, can be expected to offer similar drama.

The furious fight over EALA is coming at a time when the East African project is on its sick bed. The EAC, unlike its West African peer Ecowas, has failed to resolve the political crises and stem the violence in member states Burundi and South Sudan.

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza hasn’t showed up for an EAC meeting since May 2015, when an eventually failed coup attempt nearly took him out as he hobnobbed with regional leaders in Arusha.

Notionally, EALA is important, but in reality it no longer is. Some of its critics joke that it is a juicy job where members get the most prestigious car number plates in East Africa; can walk around holding themselves to be “above parochial national politics back home”; do absolutely nothing; and get paid a lot for it all.

Burundi and South Sudan have spoilt the party, and the euphoria that followed Burundi and Rwanda joining the EAC in 2009 has dissipated.

Tanzania’s continued refusal to join other members in signing a regional trade deal with the European Union is a loud reminder of the EAC’s struggle to craft a common vision on the primary reason for which it was established – free trade.

While the EAC project is in trouble, there is a lot of bilateral action, for example between Rwanda and Tanzania. And until the recent hiatus, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda tried to speed up joint co-operation on regional projects in the so-called Coalition of the Willing.

And private businesses and individuals are actually trading quite feverishly. A lot is bubbling, just not in political East Africa.

EALA, at least in Uganda, is no longer a job for East Africanists as it once was. It is now an extension of local pork barrel politics, and an aggrandisement project.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]