EDITORIAL: Leaders have no right to kill the Community!

Saturday December 22 2018

EAC Summit

East African Community presidents at a summit in Kampala, Uganda in February 2018. Leaders are yet to take the leap of faith that would allow them to accept the inevitable disruption and pains associated with integration. PHOTO | NMG 

By The EastAfrican
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Despite denials and efforts to paper over the cracks, all indications are that the East African Community is teetering on the edge of a precipice.

For the second time in under a month, a key meeting of the heads of state has been postponed.

While lack of quorum was advanced as the reason for the failure of the November 30 summit, the reasons for the indefinite suspension of the replacement summit scheduled for December 27, are less clear.

Even more intriguing, is that there has been no official communication to that effect, leading to much speculation, while Burundi, whose absence scuttled the November 30, meet had indicated it would this time round honour the December 27 meeting.

In the circumstances, what is not being said, is more indicative of the state of affairs in the Community.

For example, while lack of quorum after Burundi was a no-show in Arusha, was officially given as the reason for failure of the November 30 summit, a hot exchange of missives between Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his Burundian counterpart Pierre Nkurunziza shows that there was a feeling in Bujumbura that the summit was deliberately skirting issues that are central to building trust between member states.

Bujumbura wanted its suspicion that Kigali was not entirely unconnected with political events in Burundi, put on the table for discussion.

In an attempt to defuse the tension, Rwanda, which was due to take over the rotation chairmanship, passed its slot to Kenya.

With hindsight, it is not surprising that there is no immediate arbiter of the current impasse.

Right from the late 1980s, when the idea of revival of the Community was first floated, the process has been driven by an elite club of rulers whose reading of interests has shaped the nature and structure of co-operation between member states.

Also, the issues that are now troubling the Community are the very ones that were pushed under the carpet because they were deemed sovereign or too political to be opened to supranational jurisdiction.

As is evident now, this was the Achilles heel of the new Community. The marginalisation of the mwananchi from the integration project has left it hostage to the mood swings of a few men who have no obligation to account to their citizens when matters stall.

Despite that, because they have enjoyed whatever benefits the co-operation has been able to deliver, and promise of what is possible, citizens’ expectations are high.

Ordinary East Africans don’t expect to hear that the Community has collapsed once again, because of personality clashes or asymmetric economic progress among member states.

Leaders, therefore, owe the ordinary citizen an explanation of why heads of state summits cannot take place as scheduled; why the border between Rwanda and Burundi remains closed to commerce and why they cannot use their national IDs to travel between all member states.

To arrest the current slide towards a second breakup, the leaders can do two things: First, break the elitist hold over the Community by giving civil institutions a frontline role in driving integration agenda; second, promote a uniform political culture by harmonising their Constitutions on key issues such as governance and basic rights.

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