The East African Community isn’t working? No, actually it is

Wednesday June 13 2018

The  East African Community Secretariat headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania. PHOTO | FILE

The East African Community Secretariat headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania. PHOTO | FILE 

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The East African Community is still in good shape, though more and more East Africans don’t think so.

The part of the EAC that works is not the glamorous side. It is not easy to see, but is felt. Speaking in Kampala Wednesday during his State of the Nation address, President Yoweri Museveni illustrated this, saying Uganda produces five million bags of maize but we only eat a million bags. If it weren’t for the EAC market, he said, those bags would have gone to waste.

However, while the EAC as a Community is generally well, the same cannot be said of its Secretariat in Arusha.

Recently, I had a strange moment when a very East African chap who travels around the region quite a bit, asked “Is the EAC Secretariat still there in Arusha?”

On Monday, when the EAC budget was presented to the East African Legislative Assembly (sitting in Nairobi), the Secretariat had $10 million of its budget from last year cut back, among other reasons because of deadbeat partner states. Troubled Burundi and South Sudan, have become what someone called “hopeless defaulters.”

However, while the EAC as structured is too dependent on State Houses to work, there are some bureaucratic and housekeeping initiatives that the Secretariat can do for the integration projection that it isn’t doing.

Uganda’s Minister for East African Affairs Kirunda Kivejinja hinted at this when he urged the Secretariat to spend the little money that comes through on “integration pillars” instead of “meetings and air tickets… not geared to the activities to strengthen integration.”

The EAC Secretariat hardly does any “constituency building” work, yet it can afford $12,000 – small money, true – to do it.

It could create an annual prize of say $1,000 to be awarded to 12 innovators from the EAC, two from each country. Give a prize to a young person from each partner who has developed an idea in agriculture, and another who has come up with a mobile phone app that does something regional – in travel and tourism, health, retailing, whatever.

It will be surprised at the results, if it does it well. For many of these young people, $1,000 is a lot of money. They can actually do a lot with just $500.

These “small things” would make a big difference in building support for the Community, creating a base that, in the long-term, would have a vested interest in a well-funded Secretariat, because it put food in their mouths.

As it is now, it seems reasonable to ask whether EAC would suffer without a Secretariat in Arusha. There are many things it does, like organising summits, that can be contracted out to event management companies.

Indeed, for virtually everything else, there are private companies and NGOs that can be paid to do the work. The EAC’s 2018/19 budget is $99.7 million. All the above can probably be done for about 60 per cent of that sum.

And while we are at it, member countries that don’t pay anything at all into the EAC, should be kicked out until they do.

When a people are on a long journey, a time often comes when they have to make the tough decision to leave the injured and incapacitated behind to be eaten by wild animals or to find a cave to hide and survive in.

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