It was while witnessing an argument between two gentlemen about the size of their respective militaries that I realised why I am so exasperated by the East African integration project.
There I was, having stated some of my misgivings and anxieties only to end up being asked indelicate questions about why “Tanzanians are scared of the Union” and other hostile encounters.
This, my dears, is not how one wins over an informed sceptic. Any politician worth their salt will tell you that the “hearts and minds” approach to bringing people over to your point of view is critical for momentum.
I don’t really mind the East African Community, it is better than the African Union in many ways (this column resides in a pro-EAC paper).
It is just that I am not convinced about the political federation bit and do not understand the hurry.
There are many benefits to co-ordinating ourselves regionally, ranging from security and increased tourism revenue and infrastructure to potential social benefits like access to each other’s’ assets be it in education, health services, the cultural and entertainment sectors, attracting massive FDI, etc.
As a fan of open borders I don’t believe for a minute that there is such a thing as “stealing” a job in any country at any time.
If we have designed a world where capital can move so freely across borders to generate profit, then people certainly should do so too and generate increased human welfare.
This is where I can be brutal about competition: I like meritocracy.
If we practised it to recruit for our civil service here in Tanzania instead of puling about whether the CEOs of private companies come from this place or that, we wouldn’t be constantly failing our own potential.
Rather than a competitive and antagonistic view of the Community, I tend to dwell on the community part of the endeavour.
Our diversities is one of the assets that I think we don’t explore nearly enough. Another is our youth: We are sitting on a generation full of greatness.
Just recently, I was in Arusha watching a collection of young East Africans attending a summit. This is the kind of interweaving of East Africans that will eventually give fruition to the ambition of a federation.
Meanwhile, the meeting between our Heads of State to discuss Important Matters fell apart dramatically just a few kilometres away from where the youth had held their summit so very peacefully and responsibly…
When I say we’re not ready for federation this is what I mean. We are not nearly mature enough for it, we have no need to lend each other our political pathologies.
Until we sort out our own houses and deal with the health of our democracies, we really aren’t ready for the group marriage aspect of the Community.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue dating, to extend the metaphor a bit.
As an informed sceptic who will always put Tanzania first, I shall wait for when the conversation turns mature, inviting and persuasive rather than focused on the size of our respective… militaries.
Hearts and minds, my fellow East Africans. Hearts, and minds.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. e-mail:[email protected]