Chinese is local in East Africa, so Beijing can as well join the EAC

Saturday April 16 2022
EAC flag.

China is about the biggest player in East Africa. So, is it fair to China to be treated as an outsider while being local? ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA | NMG


As we celebrate the admission of the DR Congo to the East African Community, let those who think for us urgently consider a couple of amendments in the charter on how the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) is constituted.

Last year, the Council of Ministers proposed slashing of the number of MPs each country sends to Arusha from nine to five. Then we had six member states but now we have seven. Multiplied by nine that raises the elected members from 54 to 63, to which are added eight ex-officios, raising the MPs to 71. This is not good for the cash-strapped EAC, more than a third of whose budget (35 percent) is already consumed by EALA.

However, the main objective of the EAC is not to save some money on the running of the bloc. It is more important to have the EAC running efficiently than to agonise over an extra $1million or $2 million spent on its legislature. We can even have EALA’s numbers increased – why not?

Which brings us to another important and urgently required amendment — admitting China as the eighth member state of the EAC. It is more than 500 years since people thought Ferdinand Magellan was crazy to sail westwards and reach the East in search of spices.

Unlike the Europe of Ferdinand Magellan’s days, East Africa has all the spices it will ever need, but what it needs now is finance and technology from China. We don’t need to sail or even fly east to get this from China; because we have the internet and, well, China is already here anyway.

The East African Community is about economic integration and China is already, or is on the way to, becoming the biggest economic player in the EAC. Is there someone out there who doesn’t know that the UK, USA and Japan are the biggest owners of the African Development Bank? So no need to pretend that China is an outsider to the EAC.


The biggest trading partner within East Africa is China and it is possible that half of the citizens of East Africa would be walking barefoot if it weren’t for affordable slip-on Chinese footwear.

That is starting at the bottom of the body. But even you check the innermost wear, you will find a majority of East Africans’ dressing Chinese. From shoes to underwear and everything in between, East Africa is dressed in China. We are talking consumer products that should basically be produced by the local industry; so China is now local in East Africa.

Going beyond consumer goods to producer goods and then looking further to capital, finance and infrastructure, again China is about the biggest player in East Africa. So, is it fair to China to be treated as an outsider while being local? And is it fair to East Africa to become heavily indebted to a fellow local player just because the local’s name is China? Why should China build infrastructure here to facilitate its trade and then bill us for enhancing its profitability? Should China sleep in our bedroom (with our partner therein) possibly more times than us, and then charge us rent for it?

Back to matters of the legislative assembly. I propose we delay the constitution of EALA, coming up soon, and first provide for the Chinese members. They should join together with those from DR Congo. Why repeat the process when we can do a double intake? If the EAC Finance ministers are still grumbling about the cost of remunerating and facilitating the Arusha-based MPs, then let us buy their proposal of reducing the numbers to five per country. So five MPs from each of the eight states – that is with China and DR Congo included — give us 40 politician-legislators in Arusha, as opposed to today’s 54. That should make our Finance ministers happy.

After implementing the sensible amendment in these post-Magellan days, the eighth EAC member should deploy its technology to unlock the future of the world by processing the strategic minerals in Tanzania, Uganda and DR Congo.

And, with that simple amendment of the EAC charter, East Africa will become the technology and modern industry centre of the world.

Followers of the good book were taught that the law was made for man, not man for the law. The EAC charter was made for the East Africans, not East Africans for the charter. Amend it.

Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]