When you see the East African Community wobbling around ineffectively, its rules and principles being casually flouted by member states, don’t you get the feeling that some people somewhere are not really up to the job?
But if the technical people in the EAC agencies were hired due to their competence, and the East African legislators were (s)elected due to their suitability, who is failing the regional body? Is it the governments of the eight member states?
Maybe the EAC’s goals are too ambitious and are just being imposed on nations that are not yet ready for inter-state cooperation. We could be judging the EAC unfairly, like scolding a one-year-old baby for failing to carry a 20-litre can of water.
Are East African leaders at parliamentary, ministerial and higher levels really prepared to steer the organisation forward with its rather idealistic principles?
While the presidents are presumably visionary enough to desire and strive for interstate cooperation, are they really free to push it past their battalions of friends and supporters who benefit from an immature EAC?
Ideals are important as a beacon, but to attain them might take more years than we imagine.
The regional body might need more years for its aspirations to become a culture, an EAC character that an individual state cannot trample down.
With the endless, escalating squabbles among different members, it is beginning to look like the region should be given another hundred years before being judged harshly.
The often-quoted Singaporean politician Chee Soon Juan said, “Reputation is temporary but character is permanent, it doesn’t change!”
The EAC may need to nurture a regional character that is stronger than the national reputations.
Here are a couple of examples from afar:
According to the World Health Organisation, sanitation in Singapore, Luxembourg and Switzerland operates at 100 percent efficiency.
Now, suppose the rules that govern sanitation in those countries were scrapped, would Swiss citizens suddenly start practising open air you-know-what?
Would Singaporeans stop keeping their toilets spotless clean? Would sewerage pipes in Luxembourg get blocked?
Or, suppose the German Ethics Council, which was pushing for allowing siblings to relate amorously and even marry, had its way, would German men start undressing their sisters?
Character is permanent and does not depend on laws. East African leaders need to be helped to develop an EAC character, which would, for instance, make them frown at non-tariff barriers, instead of promoting them.
Members of the eight national legislatures should be inducted and drilled in the purpose and workings of the EAC. They should be nauseated by the split airspaces that make flights within East Africa some of the most expensive in the world.
Cabinet ministers in the eight countries should not go to sleep when they hear of hostilities mounting between any two member states.
Entry restriction of visitors from member states, when they are not suspected of criminal intent, should be regarded as a gross immorality.
Visa requirements within the community should sound like a vulgarity. Non-payment of the annual dues should smell like incest.
Do these sound like unattainable ideals? If they do, then we may as well forget about the EAC. After all, it is expected to work better than the individual states.
If it is worse or less efficient than the member states then, well, East Africans had better lower their expectations of it.
Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]