On a recent Saturday morning, my brother woke up swearing he had “ten men” inside him. “Ten men’s hunger” is a phrase we inherited from our grandfather, which he used to state how hungry he was.
My brother’s ten men’s hunger came at the weekend when Rwanda hosted Ntare Old Boys (Rwanda and Uganda Chapters) and the East African Community Heads of State under the Northern Corridor Integration Projects initiative.
At the NSOBA Reunion dinner in Kigali, my brother had only been served a quarter slice of a potato and a strip of meat.
“But you are lions,” said our relative who lives in Kigali, as she served us breakfast, “how can you feed on slices of potatoes and strips of meat?”
The message here is that if you deviate from your staple food, you will be very hungry.
That weekend, Rwanda was hosting EAC leaders, planners and technocrats. In spite of covering many milestones, the EAC has dumped our staple food and soon will have a ten men’s hunger.
The same week, the media ran the story of Kenya banning sugar imports from its neighbours, all of whom are either in the EAC or Comesa, whose central tenet of integration is free trade. Yet East Africa’s economic powerhouse imports sugar from as far as Brazil.
A few weeks ago, Charles Onyango-Obbo sounded the alarm about the butcher sharpening his knife as the CoW slept. This was at a time when the then Coalition of the Willing (the Northern Corridor Integration Projects) seemed to have no “newsworthy” activity. And his parting shot was: The EAC needs an East African Institute.
The Secretariat, with its 800 donor-funded meetings in a single year, seems to be a deviation from our eating habits, and soon we will starve.
Run by the class of East Africans whom in another piece Onyango-Obbo called “the cross-word puzzle type,” the EAI will do the thinking and bleeding for this region.
Organisational development theory holds that for every organisation to succeed there must be core leadership ready and committed to bleeding for the cause. And the EAC need not look overseas for inspiration.
Rwanda is living testimony of how venturing into the unknown can be beneficial. From its political system to communal work, Rwanda has adopted and contextualised universal principles and values.
The Gacaca courts, for instance, achieved what conventional international judicial organs would not manage.
The EAC needs these home-grown initiatives. And the starting point is the East African Institute. Located in the legendary Gitega town of Burundi, it should become the centre of our renaissance, with summits and high-level meetings taking the form of Rwanda’s umushyikirano, the citizens’ forum where they interact with leaders and hold them accountable.
The EAI will be fully financed by EAC mobilised resources. It is possible. All we need is an EAC Integration Fund into which the roadside maize roaster will drop a coin the same way a multinational telco will drops 2 per cent of its revenues.
And how about our social security funds financing such infrastructure programmes as the standard gauge railway?
Lessons from Singapore’s Lee
People perish for lack of vision. Take Singapore, for instance. It is a good example of what good leadership can do to a country.
The Asian country is an economic powerhouse in the world despite its small size and limited resources. Compared with Kenya, which is much bigger in size and endowed with resources, Singapore has done better in matters development.
The prosperity of this small Asian country is largely attributed to the pragmatic and visionary leadership by the late Lee Kuan Yew.
Lee transformed Singapore into a technological and commercial hub reputed around the world.
Can East Africa borrow a leaf from the Singaporean leader? As prime minister, he had a vision and made tough choices to make Singapore a prosperous and respected nation.
Lee’s story makes nonsense of our leaders. While developed countries are celebrating the rich and enduring legacies of their leaders, Africa can only bemoan lost opportunities.