History will judge us kindly, Kenya’s president said in response to questions from our special correspondent.
You have been the chairman of EAC and Igad at the same time. What were your challenges?
How do you rate your performance in both positions?
It was an honour and a privilege to be chosen by my peers to lead both organisations.
The challenges interlocked. For example, during my tenure at Igad, we had some difficulties with conflict, which look as though they’re coming to an end. But conflict, of course, means that the East African community’s ambitious plans for regional integration are set back.
There were several similar interwoven challenges, where a problem in one place had consequences for our plans elsewhere.
Let me say that I look back on my time as EAC chair with fond memories. We have made a start on some vital infrastructural matters, and we have strengthened and deepened our integration.
It is still too early to judge the full effect of these efforts, but I am confident that when the history of the period is written, it will show that progress was made.
What is the progress on the “Coalition of the Willing” projects?
There are funding hiccups for some, especially in Uganda and Rwanda. How is this being addressed?
Do you feel that the initiative split EAC?
In my view, it is misleading to speak of a Coalition of the Willing. We are one, united Community. We may have different priorities, but all of us are fully committed to the great goal of integration.
In fact, that is why I do not feel that the initiative split the EAC. Just as any group of people will have some who have different ways of doing things, so too any group of countries will include members who have different approaches.
Our strength remains the amiable manner in which we solve any difficulties, and that strength is the direct consequence of the trust the countries of the region have for each other, and the value they place on unity.
EAC issues have captured the public’s attention during your tenure as the chairman. It looks like you had thought about it well before you took the seat?
Does the vibrancy we see now stem out of your personality or the agenda being pursued?
What more can be done to create awareness on integration and its benefits?
Yes. I had given the EAC some thought before I took up the job.
I also drew on our long history of co-operation, and I was equally impressed by the successes of regional blocs in other parts of the continent and the world.
I was also fortunate to work behind the scenes with other East Africans during my time in Kenya’s Finance ministry.
These experiences strengthened my conviction that the time for greater emphasis on unity had come.
There is still room for more vigorous advocacy of the benefits, and indeed the necessity, of integration.
But I think the best kind of integration will occur naturally: It will happen when East Africans meet each other, trade with each other, and live together.
That is why I have so ardently defended freedom of movement across the Community.
Opinion is polarised on whether the EAC should evolve into a political federation. What justification do you and other regional leaders have for it?
What direction will it take? Is the timeline too ambitious?
I do not think the timeline is too ambitious. We have done great things together before. In the past few years, the idea and practice of full integration have gathered momentum.
We should not pass up the opportunity. More fundamentally, in a world where distance is shrinking, where markets are larger, and where people are far more mobile, it makes good sense to unite — the better to face, and benefit from, these challenges.