East Africans want total freedom to trade, not small jobs in EALA
Last week, members of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) slapped the ruling party in Uganda on the face. The regional assembly members rejected the NRM party’s anointed lady for the coveted seat of speaker and voted another Uganda, Margaret Zziwa, for the rotational job.
The NRM that went to Arusha full of vigor after outfoxing its main rival FDC from EALA, returned home with a swollen face. In Arusha, the NRM was been made to taste the very bitter medicine it used to outwit FDC (Uganda’s main opposition party).
The worry however, is that the polarizing politics of intrigue that define the relationship between NRM and FDC back home in Uganda, has found its way to the regional assembly.
Instead of working to build consensus on issues that promote regional integration, it is very likely that the fallout from the election of the speaker will continue to breed mistrust.
Already, Burundi that had also fronted a candidate is being seen by some in Uganda as having had a hand in the failing the NRM’s candidate, Dora Byamukama.
It is very saddening that EALA and other organs of the East African Community (EAC) have been turned into mere sources of employment where nationals of member countries go to earn a living without aiming to achieve the objectives of the EAC.
In the end, the EAC is quickly becoming a mere talking show for political leaders and a place to employ nationals who can not be absorbed at home. That is why, a number of project that would benefit us all have remained on paper, getting mentioned only in the next meeting.
Frustrations over this inertia has led to suggestions within some circles that the EAC secretariat be transformed into a commission with powers to pressure member-states to speed up implementation of protocols that are several years behind schedule.
This, according to the proponents of this view, is one sure way of putting urgency in the regional integration process that appears sluggish and without a clear time-table.
The coordinator of the East African Civil Society Organisations Forum, Prudence Sebahinzi, says that unless an enforcement mechanism and structure similar to the European Commission is put in place, integrating the region will remain a distant dream.
Sebahinzi is of course right to be pessimistic because, for several years since the reintroduction of the EAC, we have done more talking than real work on issues agreed upon.
Despite each member-state designating specific ministry to responsible for EAC affairs, there is growing inertia even on issues that seem to be easy and straight forward.
One would then wonder what would happen when eventually more complex things such as implementing a monetary union and/or a political federation come on the table.
Take for example the idea of a single tourist visa that was mooted way back in 2005 and was then agreed that it would be in place by 2006. Six years down, only one member-state, Rwanda, has put in place the very basic infrastructure for the project. The others remain quite and the enthusiasm that the proposal received way back in 2005 has since waned.
Yet this is one single area through which the EAC member-countries would reap immediate returns even as we await political and economic integration to come.
With a single tourist visa, the EAC would be marketed to the outside world as one package that blends the Kenya-Tanzania coastline and its beautiful beaches with the prized mountain gorillas that straddle Rwanda and Uganda; the richly endowed national parks like Serengeti in Tanzania with Uganda’s Murchison Falls and Kenya’s Masai Mara plus others.
There could be very few destinations in the world that can offer such a wide variety. And with an aggressive marketing strategy, world-class hotels and lodges, improved road networks and domestic air travel, the EAC would certainly a destination of choice for any tourist with some dollars to spend.
And wherever a single tourist lands first—Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda or Burundi—they will not resist the desire to visit all these places with the main incentive of free movement. Every night a tourist spends in the region means spending whether in lodge, on food or transport. For our struggling economies, every dollar spent means a lot. It high time we get this project implemented.