The fourth East African Business media Summit, which met in Nairobi last week, was arguably the most integration friendly so far.
This edition of the gathering that brings together leaders in business, politics and media under the aegis of the East African Community discusses various issues regarding the region, but mainly focusing on the state of integration among the East African nations.
Issues of integration have occupied politicians, business people and media in a way that may seem absurd, seeing as these countries have formally committed to deepening their integration all the way to federation and concrete steps have been taken to pull their economies closer together, such as the creation of a common market and a Customs Union. Still, issues persist.
There have been suspicions as to the real intentions of the principal actors.
Some have suspected others of trying to rush integration through because of a desire to grab this or that resource in a neighbouring country, land, for instance.
Some countries have expressed the fear that their jobs may be lost to more competitive job seekers from elsewhere.
Generally, the partners lie uneasily in their bed, and this unease may be informed by the well known history of earlier failures, to wit, the collapse of the EAC in 1977.
It is thus encouraging that the Nairobi meeting came across as more upbeat on the prospects of federation than the three previous meetings.
The tone was set by the guest of honour, Kenya’s Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, who declared himself an East African and challenged the gathering to feel and declare the same.
Subsequent speakers followed suit and, though the usual issues of old kept cropping up, the mood was in favour of moving in the up direction.
Occasion was found for Tanzania, for instance, to set the record straight via a high ranking civil servant, who reiterated that her country had never opposed federation, only the idea of “fast tracking,” stating further that while 75 per cent of the Tanzanians polled rejected fast tracking, a whopping 95 per cent were in favour of federation qua federation.
This as it should be. There can be no reason for our people in our respective pieces of territory to continue clinging onto entities that are really creations of our erstwhile colonial masters, who carved up our continent to suit their needs at the time.
The only reason we call ourselves Kenyans or Tanganyikans (sic) or Ugandans is that some European called us that and claimed us as his own property. There was no such construct outside of the European’s will.
Half a century after that European left, we are still where he left us, trapped inside his straight-jacket, unable to comprehend our sad predicament, let alone trying to extricate ourselves from it.
Long after the leash was cut we are still tethered to our own psychological shackles, unable to move. We have adopted the colonial box as our home.
That is why it’s music to the ear when one hears young women and men from across the region embracing the ideal of federation, with the potential to bring together up to 150 million people, in a politically powerful, economically viable and militarily potent ensemble.
If we could, as some have suggested, admit more states, we could have established the nucleus of a united state eventually to morph into a sub-Saharan United States of Africa.
A dream, you will say, but not a pipe-dream.
A new momentum has been created, no doubt born of the realisation on the part of our rulers that there is strength in size and numbers, but also buttressed by the dynamic activism of Juma Mwapachu, the soon outgoing secretary general of the EAC, who has transformed that office from a slumbering bureaucracy into a vibrant instrument for change.
No wonder there is a Juma Succession War (JSW) among partner states.
It is to be hoped that this will be resolved amicably, and that whoever takes over from Juma will help the Kenyans and Ugandans decide on how to pronounce the name of the little rock they are fighting over: Is it pronounced Migingo or Mijingo?
Jenerali Ulimwengu, chairman of the board of Raia Mwema newspaper, is a political commentator and civil society activist based in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]