So another bad Covid-19 year ends, and 2022 is here. The East African Community has been, and it too is here. Being secretary-general of the East African Community must be the most thankless big job in the region, together with being in charge of a government’s Covid fight.
Everyone hates Covid czars. On the one hand, one bunch thinks you are incompetent, can’t rollout vaccination, are in cahoots with crooked suppliers to chew personal protective equipment money and are getting a cut from airport virus testing fees and quarantine hotels. On the other, you are a stooge of Western pharmaceuticals, a traitor who is enabling lockdowns and ruining lives, a despicable fellow who is rejecting herbal cures and oils that have stood the test of time since our ancestors came out of their caves.
No, being secretary-general of the EAC is less joy. Not a soul believes the organisation you head is doing anything, and many of them just think you don’t matter anymore. Our hearts, therefore, go out to SG Dr Peter Mathuki.
But, perhaps it’s not necessary. Even without the disruption of Covid, the EAC has not had a proper full-house summit in a while. There is always a president who is absent because of a quarrel with another or, as in the case of Burundi and South Sudan at one time, uncertainty about whether they would go back home to a job.
There is nothing, barring a sub-standard attempt to work together on the locust threat in 2020, that the bloc has done together with results to show for it.
The states failed to coordinate even on the pandemic, with conflicting approaches from testing to rules for cross-border transport, which caused a lot of pain.
However, the fact that it is still there for us to castigate might be success enough. The six members of the EAC have major issues with each other, but being part of the bloc has meant they couldn’t go to the war. At the people level, citizens of the EAC can still expect to freely be let through on arrival at the airport, after the brief encounter with the rude scowl-faced immigration officer.
The EAC then isn’t an organisation that works positively. It works negatively. Its main value today is in the restraints it puts on its members not to act totally mad.
National politics has also saved the EAC’s bacon. Throughout, the EAC has had a member producing a president who isn’t very touchy, isn’t itching for a fight at the drop of a hat, and is a calming influence. Between 2002 and 2012, perhaps the most exciting period of the EAC, there was Mwai Kibaki in the Nairobi State House.
After Kibaki, President Uhuru Kenyatta tried, but he was younger than the rest, and in Tanzania John Magufuli was more than a handful. Magufuli passed away in March this year, and Tanzania offered up President Samia Suluhu Hassan.
She is flawed, and seems to be a mini-autocrat in a headscarf, but has brought a big heart and quite some emotional intelligence into the East African party. She is the best thing that happened to the EAC in 2021 – and possibly since 2013.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]