There was a time when there was one shilling as the currency of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda; There was a time when after school you would as likely work in Dar es Salaam as Nairobi or Entebbe; there was a time when depositing money on your post office account in Mombasa and withdraw it within hours in Kasese, using just your pass book.
This was true until about 40 years ago.
Over the last two weeks the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) has had a special seating in Kampala.
Every year EALA, which conducts its business in Arusha, Tanzania, has a special seating in one of the four other countries as a way to bring the assembly’s business closer to the people.
This is part of a 12 year effort to revive the East African Community, which interestingly the European Union took some pointers from.
The truth of the matter though is that for the border communities of these five nations the political boundaries are a line on someone else’s map, with their everyday reality having transcended the se colonially imposed borders.
It cannot get any better than the case of former Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori and his younger brother Aggrey, former Ugandan ICT minister. By some quirk of fate their father who was a Ugandan missionary settled in Kenya but many of his children still attended school in eastern Uganda. They have risen to prominence in their respective countries and one can bet they hope across the border every so often without recourse to the official immigration procedures.
A classic case of the citizens being a head of their leaders.
It is commendable that EAC, sees the wisdom of having EALA seatings in regional capital every so often, the logic being that if the everyday man can see it in action they can better embrace the endeavour. After all the generation that saw a fully functioning community are in the minority.
The quickest way to encourage the organic uptake of this project is to improve the transport and communication infrastructure in the region.
Already the telecommunication companies are way ahead on this one. It has been for some time now that you can use your phone number in any of the east African nations bar Burundi. They still need to do something about the charges.
There has been an almost uninterrupted bus transport service for years, but the consistency of road quality across borders leaves a lot to be desired. The passenger rail transport across the region is non-existent and the cargo services continue to lurch along but not fast enough for our liking.
The air travel is probably the worst. To visit Kisumu from Entebbe one would have to fly first to Nairobi and the track back to Kisumu in western Kenya. The same for Mwanza on Lake Victoria in Tanzania.
The better the communications the more the region’s citizens can move around and be in touch. The more his happens the more interdependence will be created and the more sustainable the project will be.
It is not by accident that political events in Kenya are monitored keenly in Uganda. Kenya’s importance to us lies in that 1200 km ribbon of patchy tarmac between Kampala and Mombasa. Similar intensity of sentiment is not felt for Tanzania.
Sentimentality is all very nice but the regional block will be cemented by commercial self interest.
We have come a long way from 12 years ago when the current attempt to revive the community was launched. We travel around the region we greater ease to work, to visit, to study to do business but we are at the tip of the iceberg.
Imagine the explosion in movement if the passenger railway was not only reopened between Mombasa and Kasese, but this was also extended to Dar es salaam, Kigali and Bujumbura for starters? Of that our water transport on Lake victoria can make a non stop trip from Lugazi to Kisumu possible? Or that I wouldn’t have to indulge in complex vectors in flying from Entebbe to Eldoret or Nairobi to Tororo?
Interestingly because of the cross boundary investments required to bring these investments to fruition, it is inevitable that a political federation will be an inevitable necessity.
The truth be told the barrier to an east african union be it economic, political otherwise are not the citizens of the region -- you are preaching to the converted, it is our elite in our capitals, after all they are the ones who shut down the original east african community in 1976!