It was interesting to listen to Uganda’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of East African Community Affairs Eriya Kategaya at the launch of the State of East Africa Report 2012 (SoEAR2012) in Nairobi on Wednesday.
Kategaya is part of the dwindling club of unapologetic Pan-Africanists and social democrats.
Naturally, he is also a gung-ho East Africanist, but he still seems embarrassed about being too East African, perhaps because there is a part of him that believes regionalism is parochial.
Now three countries have applied to join the East African Community in the past six nine months — Sudan (Khartoum), South Sudan, and more recent Somalia.
There were also suggestions at the SoEAR2012 event that Ethiopia has been sending flowers and flirting with the EAC.
Sudan’s application was spurned contemptuously. South Sudan was welcomed, but the EAC chiefs said it needed to grow up a little bit more before it was ready for marriage.
On Somalia, the presidents haven’t spoken, except Rwanda’s Paul Kagame who said on Twitter that Somalia and the EAC would benefit from its membership.
Kategaya was at pains to be himself, but also not to be too out of line with the EAC presidents.
So he argued that Khartoum was still intent on finishing off South Sudan, and that EAC admission would provide it with a security umbrella against the north.
On Somalia, he noted that the majority of the EAC states were involved as peacekeepers, and that for reasons of national security — particularly dealing with Al Shabaab terrorist attacks in Nairobi and Kampala — membership for Somalia at some point would help.
The point of EAC overstretch and “too-rapid” expansion that Kategaya spoke to, has arisen because the Community is trying to be too many things at the same time.
It is an economic bloc, it is a social bloc of peoples, an aspiring political federation, and with the upcoming formal signing of the EAC defence pact, a security organisation.
While it still identifies itself largely as an economic bloc and spends most of its effort on that, that is not the area where the EAC has been most successful.
It is in Somalia, where Uganda and Burundi had been the only two countries contributing troops to the Africa Union peacekeeping mission Amisom until Kenya entered the campaign last October, that East African governments have been most decisive.
Uganda, Burundi, and Kenya have shown themselves more committed to spending money and sacrificing lives in Somalia, than to EAC integration.
Uganda and Burundi, for example, have lost anything between 500 and 1,000 troops in their five years in Somalia.
However, they will not allow other East Africans to work in their countries freely without permits.
It would seem then if the EAC had to choose to do what it is best at, then it would have to stick to security and function as the Nato of East Africa.
For economic integration, it would have to make some general rules to enable cross-border commerce, get out of the way, and let the people get on with it.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: [email protected]. Twitter: @cobbo3