The Battles of Attrition Within The Eastern Africa Community – Alex Ndungu Njeru


The Eastern African Community was supposed to be Africa’s shining light when it comes to issues of integration. The EAC was supposed to be an exemplar of how Africa could relegate artificial and arbitrary colonial borders to the doldrums of history. The Eastern Africa Community being a re-birth of the collapsed Eastern Africa Authority was generally greeted with optimism, especially when the treaty came into force on 7th July 2000.

Over the past few years though the movement towards an Eastern Africa political confederation, which is the EAC ultimate goal has been staccato at best. A lot of talk has gone around but certainly very little walk has occurred.

The most disconcerting thing is that states within the community have been trying to key in to a world replete with a plethora of new opportunities at each other’s expense. Kenya has opened up her economy to the East, China has come up into the fray, with goodies, shinning roads, buildings and shine. Kenya has welcomed China, whereas at the same time trying valiantly to maintain it’s ‘we do business with the West stance.’ Tanzania has welcomed the foreign capital too from the BRICs, new buildings are coming up in Dare Salam like flowers in the morning bloom, China is financing a super port at Bagamoyo, Tanzania is still wooing the West, she stands like a flower girl ready to accept men who come in black crisp suits, heavily laden with dollars, pounds and Yuans.

During all this time Tanzania and Kenya have been shrugging each other, the Eastern Africa Community has started to disintegrate. A new ‘we do not need you’ mind-set is starting to inform thinking in the bureaucracies of this Eastern African states. Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda have developed a super new bond, so much so that, Tanzania and Burundi have started treating the friendship with apprehension and naturally formed a super strong bond of their own.

Tanzania and Rwanda have been spurring over myriads of issues; Rwanda’s role in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the forced eviction of Rwandan refugees who had settled in Tanzania after the 1994 genocide and most recently about road levy charges for trucks entering Tanzania or Rwanda from either side of the boarder. Tanzania had introduced a 500 US$D road levy charge for trucks entering its boarders from the Rwanda, Rwanda consequentially adjusted its road levy for trucks entering its boarders from Tanzania to 500 US$D.  Although a harmonized road levy between Tanzania and Rwanda has been set at 152 US$D the brief trade spat lays it bare that non-tariff barriers and tariff barriers to trade will be the Eastern African Community’s death knell. Furthermore President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Paul Kagame are having personal differences, personality and ideological differences similar to the one between President Jommo Kenyatta and Julius Nyerere that eventually broke the Eastern Africa Authority which crumbled in 1977.

On their part Kenya and Uganda are fighting desperately for hinterlands to their ports; the Ports of Mombasa and the Gargantuan port project in Lamu from Kenya and the Ports of Dare-salaam and the gargantuan port project in Bagamoyo.

What bureaucrats, institutions and governments within the Eastern African Community do not understand is this; ‘no amount of fidgeting and apprehension from technocrats at the heart of the East African Community can break the integration of the people of the Eastern Africa.’ The integration of the people of Eastern Africa did not come into the fray with the coming into force of the EAC treaty. Integration of the people of Eastern Africa predates colonial history, the people of Eastern Africa have always been one, people on either side of the Kenya border share; blood ties, language and culture, that can be said of all boarders within the Eastern Africa Community. In Gikomba one of the biggest markets in Nairobi, there are as many traders with Tanzania heritage as there are Kenyans. I am not sure that those traders are in that market because of a treaty signed by the presidents of these countries.

The governments within the Eastern Africa Community, should not dampen the spirit of integration and oneness of the Eastern Africa, as a matter of fact they should take a back seat and let the people run with it, like it has always been.

[photo: EAC]

The EAC is being hampered by needless battles on many sides