Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Big ambitions, big question-marks

Article off The Economist regarding EAC.

The idea of a United States of East Africa is less far-fetched than it was

WHAT exactly is “East Africa” these days? Certainly, the parts of old British East Africa—Uganda, Tanzania (first a German colony) and Kenya. They have trodden very different paths since colonial days. Uganda has had coups, turmoil under Milton Obote, bloody convulsions under Idi Amin, and long spells of civil strife. Under Julius Nyerere, an incompetent or saintly authoritarian (depending on who you ask), Tanzania strove for a socialist ideal that kept its people plodding and poor but united and peaceful. Kenya was more dynamic and worldly, but more violent and corrupt. It may now be the least stable of the trio.

In 1967 these three founded the East African Community (EAC) with a view to federation. Little progress was made; the EAC collapsed in 1977, to general rejoicing among Kenyans, who reckoned they were carrying the other two. In 1999, however, the project was revived. In 2007 it even expanded to include Burundi and Rwanda. Many still doubt whether a European Union-style federation can ever be achieved in the region, despite the EAC’s promise to create a single currency by 2015 and to make a customs union work. But recent developments have made further integration more likely.

Tanzania has usually been the one to put the brakes on the EAC, fearing it will be overrun with land speculators and better-educated Kenyans and Ugandans. But Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete, now says his people should stop moaning and prepare for a common market. The head of Tanzania’s tiny stock exchange reckons there could be a single east African version in a few years. Work is already under way to create a common trading system.

If Tanzania has lagged behind, Uganda has usually encouraged the federal idea, not least because its president, Yoweri Museveni, has long nurtured a wish to end his career as the EAC’s first president.

Paul Kagame, president of tiny, landlocked Rwanda, is also keen to press ahead. His recent rapprochement with Congo, Rwanda’s vast, ramshackle neighbour to the west, was made in the hope of increasing trade via the fledgling EAC’s market. He is now intent on adding value to Congolese raw materials and shipping them to the world market through the EAC, too.

Congo’s government seems willing. China, by some counts the biggest investor in the region, plainly wants Congo’s timber, iron ore and other minerals shipped across the Indian Ocean via the EAC.

For that and other reasons, Kenya, for its part, wants to build a new deep-sea port near the island of Lamu, close to the border with Somalia. Kenyan officials have so far brushed aside concerns for the mangrove swamps and nearby marine sanctuary. They say the port, refinery and new city will be built on the mainland to preserve Lamu’s heritage and tourist industry. The hope is for roads and railways to Mogadishu, Addis Ababa and Kigali and a pipeline bringing in Ugandan and south Sudanese oil. Funds would flow in from Kuwait and other Arab investors. This would link up east Africa as never before, and a single currency and a customs union would then make much more sense.

And why should an East African federation stop with the club’s existing member countries? If defined by the area in which the lingua franca of the Swahili language is used, the range of lorries heading out of the Kenyan port of Mombasa, and the magnet of Nairobi as a hub, east Africa spreads into Ethiopia and includes a chunk of Somalia, a swathe of east Congo, a strip of northern Mozambique and all of southern Sudan, which could become an independent country in 2011, if its people vote in a promised referendum to secede.

The EAC already has 126m people. If it expands, it could add as many as 120m more to that number, making it more than twice as populous as Africa’s 28 smallest countries combined—enough, its backers argue, to make a bigger EAC very attractive to foreign investors. The EAC says it would negotiate better deals with the rich world than individual African countries can.

Local businessmen are still sceptical. They argue that the EAC’s dream of federation could be botched by a trade row, tribal violence or strangled at birth with red tape by venal politicians and bureaucrats. So the mood is mixed. Could east Africa take off as a regional trading bloc? Or will the idea disappointingly fizzle once again? An early test of the EAC’s earnestness will be to see if it can get its member countries jointly to look after Lake Victoria, a common resource that scientists say has been overfished and poisoned by the sewage running off its overpopulated shores.


Iddy said...

The whole EAC argument is ridiculous, majority of EAC orthodox are pushing the union due to their own political/ideology agenda lather that economic facts. Integration of East African Countries into one will not benefit neither of the countries members, instead it will be a big gain for Westerner to utilize the market. So, the idea behind EAC orthodox is just put them together, reduce the tariff and enjoy the market of 100+ Million people.

My argument is based on simple facts, how will EAC improve local people life? This includes reduction of poverty, expanding healthcare coverage, improve infrastructure and boost education standard. How will EAC archive those goals? What frustrate me is majority of EAC supporter used only one factor to defend why we need EAC, and that is expansion of market equal to economic integration, which is a bogus idea.

I support some kind of integration which includes trade blocs and reduction of visa restrictions among members. This will increase the trade among members and hence provide opportunity to the region citizen. On the other side I strong oppose single currency, the reason behind is all EA countries have a very weak monetary system.
We need to wait until we figure out how to conduct a transparency and realistic monetary system.

Last I should put forward that the concern of majority of Tanzania is not Kenyan or Ugandan education lather it’s their political instability ( These is where international pundit got it wrong). Museveni is still unpopular in the region and there is no doubt he has something to do with Congolese rebels. Kenya political system is still in limbo. Make no mistake the wound of Rwanda genocide will not ill any time soon.

Now, if you believe EAC will wash those problems away then you need a mental check up. Other than that we should focus on one thing at a time. Let us do the baby step toward this thing. I don’t care even if they called us coward, but we need to think before joining EAC. I denied this community nonsense five years ago, I denied it now. Let us work toward improving Tanzanian life before thinking about improving lives 100+ million people.

Aidan said...

In April 2008 after three years of research and deep discussion coordinated by the Society for International Development (SID), a group of East Africans from across the five EAC member states published a book entitled ‘What do we want? What might we become: Imagining the Future of East Africa.’

In part one of that book we wrote ‘[we] found it more useful to expand the definition of the region beyond its political units and to view East Africa as a 'region of peoples' bounded loosely within a 'Swahili line'. The boundaries stretch as far north as southern Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. To the west, large areas of eastern DRC are included. The boundary stretches as far south as northern Mozambique and the Indian Ocean to the East.' Sound familiar?

We described a region which faced a tremendous complexity of systemic pressures. However, it was far from clear that our institutions were up to the task of discerning and articulating the choices, navigating and arbitrating between competing interests, resolving conflict and mobilizing us by finding common ground on which to enlarge the space for vision and action. We then offered up three alternative futures (scenarios) in the form of stories:

‘I want to be a Star’ is a story about the seduction of beauty and wealth. It tells of an East Africa that is so spellbound by the promise of her natural beauty and resource wealth that she welcomes all suitors and relinquishes to them all control over her destiny. By 2040, she has been deeply disappointed.

In ‘I want a Visa’ East Africa’s executive elite, motivated by enlightened self-interest, deploys its intellectual skills and state power to deliver development through the coordinated execution of what appears to be a visionary and progressive strategy. In 2040, it discovers that confidence in its ability to determine outcomes has its limits.

The third story, Usiniharakishe (Don’t rush me) explores ordinary East Africans’ struggle to retain and reclaim control over their most local assets – land, water, trees, creativity – in an effort to shape their own futures. By 2040, success is by no means assured as small units grapple with and risk being overwhelmed by huge challenges.

These stories were placed in the public domain in an effort to provoke dialogue, at all levels of East African society, on what is needed for the region to face the future with confidence.

We have been accused of being too pessimistic in our story-telling.

Commenting on the lessons of the Japanese ‘lost decade’ for the current global economic crisis, one academic economist told the BBC in a January 2009 broadcast that ‘I think what was really missing in the case of Japan in the lost decade was that policy simply refused to look at the worst possible scenario.’ Sound familiar?