If you were a tourist visiting East Africa for the first time, you wouldn’t know that all the five neighbouring countries freely agreed to economically integrate and eventually form a political federation.
You wouldn’t, for example know that Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda are under legal obligation to ensure that their people, goods, services and capital move freely within the region.
And where differences crop up, as is inevitable in such relationships, one would have expected that all members would pursue the policy of “do no harm.”
Yet today, evidence shows that some EAC members are involved in acts that directly harm integration.
To capture the state of matters in the EAC, a friend recently wisecracked on social media that, “Even EAC cows are having it rough”!
This was in reference to cows belonging to Kenyan herders, which Tanzanian authorities auctioned off.
And as The EastAfrican reported, the action wasn’t the work of a rogue low-ranking official because President John Magufuli is quoted as saying that, “Tanzania is not a feeding farm for animals from other countries.”
In total, 1,300 cows were auctioned and 6,400 chicks imported from Kenya burnt on suspicion of carrying bird flu.
As would be expected, Kenyan officials were enraged, with the Daily Nation reporting on November 7 that they protested “a policy shift that condones hostile actions against Kenyan citizens and their business interests.”
Meanwhile, Tanzania Minister of Livestock and Fisheries reportedly told parliament that a further 10,000 Rwandan and Ugandan cows would also be auctioned.
Yet, these action aren’t isolated
Uganda arrested 17 Kenyan fishermen for what it termed “illegal” fishing in Lake Victoria on November 7. The two countries have also been at loggerheads over Migingo Island in Lake Victoria.
To East Africans these actions aren’t only contrary to the higher purpose of integration, but ahistorical since, for centuries, the Maasai community (whose cows were auctioned) have freely grazed their animals across borders.
Besides these “smaller” issues, there are also bigger questions undermining integration.
For example, the Burundi crisis sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term bid saw a rift develop between Rwanda and Burundi after Bujumbura accused Kigali of meddling.
Burundi also blocked business transactions through its northern border, including banning buses travelling the daily Kampala-Kigali-Bujumbura route.
Then there is Rwanda and Uganda. Despite strong cultural and historical bonds, apparently, all isn’t well between these two nations.
According to media reports, there are a number of issues that are fuelling the strained relations between the two countries including the recent arrest of a number of senior Ugandan police officers on allegations of kidnaping a Rwandan dissident in 2013 and handing him over to Kigali.
While member states engage in behaviour that goes against the region’s goals for integration, the EAC Secretariat has fallen on hard economic times with donors cutting funds due to its failure in Burundi amid reports of partisanship and incompetence.
In all this, however, all the EAC leaders claim to be rooting for integration and are supposedly pan-Africanists. They also continue to blame colonialists for the poverty in their countries and vow to “remove colonial borders.”
In reality, these leaders are burning and auctioning off the little integration we currently have.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website:www.mgcconsult.com