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These bad ideas could save EAC from starvation, high cost of goods

Friday May 13 2022
Border

Trucks pile up at Malaba border point between Kenya and Uganda on September 7, 2020. EAC governments could begin by suspending borders to ease transport of cheaper goods. PHOTO | AFP

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Some 3.1 million Kenyans are facing starvation due to the harsh drought in some parts of the country.

Across the East African Community pump prices of petrol, diesel, and kerosene have reached levels never seen before, even with governments pumping in billions of shillings and francs as fuel subsidies.

The combination of the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic; intemperate weather; the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions it unleashed; and some bad decisions by governments have created a perfect storm.

The stories of the desperate conditions of people that make it to the media are heart-breaking.

There is some good news; governments can do some things immediately that could ease these difficulties. It will require them to embrace some uncomfortable ideas.

The EAC governments could begin by suspending borders for one year, or until Russia has bombed Ukraine into submission — or been defeated. There would be no checks of trucks carrying goods across the Community’s borders. This crazy idea is doable, now that the Democratic Republic of Congo has joined the EAC. There are now hardly any trucks travelling from Tanzanian or Kenyan ports into the Jumuiya heartland that are going beyond the EAC.

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With cheaper goods now available at the far ends of the EAC boundary, neighbours like Ethiopia, Sudan, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Angola, Zambia, and Malawi will also turn to buy from the EAC, and the region will make a killing.

Secondly, all controls on food should be canned for a similar period. If some crooked Ugandans take to selling funny maize to its neighbours, and Kenyans flood the region with sub-standard goods, no problem (they are already selling some of the stuff at home, anyway). Besides, it won’t be too much, and everyone takes one for the East African team. You can bet, though, that the food-stressed areas will immediately have a little more to eat.

Thirdly, all roadblocks and operations of weighbridges should be suspended. They cause too many delays and rob truckers. Governments will fret at not being able to shake down truckers and businesses, and it’s important to win some political support for these measures. To do, trucks could pay only a single road toll in the country through which they pass. Nothing more.

The one problem that is left unresolved is what happens at East Africa’s often slow and inefficient ports. That is a difficult one.

East African armies, especially the Kenyan, Rwandan, Burundi and Tanzanian ones — South Sudan and DRC should sit this one out — are good at doing some things. They could be drafted in to help speed up things at the ports for about a year. Some of these are really bad ideas, but they are far better than doing nothing.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]

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