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Dreams vs Reality for East Africa, by Ruth Aine
by Ruth Aine. The East African integration process has gone through quite a metamorphosis dating as far back as the 1960's as envisioned by the late Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. Today it has 5 countries: Burundi, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. Will this integration process soon become a reality? And if it does: what does it mean for the citizens of these five countries? These were some of the many questions that we asked ourselves as we met for the first ever East Africa Future Day on the 12th of November 2012 in Nairobi, Kenya. The East Africa Future Day was organized by the Society for International Development, Bertelsmann Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation.
As participants, during one of the sessions, we were asked to look into the future of East Africa. "Imagine East Africa in the next 20 years. What do you see? As you drive through the streets of Arusha and Dar es Salaam with your son, what are you telling him? Are you proud of what you see? What do the roads look like?" The moderator of the day Mr Aidan Eyakuze, guided us through this session with our eyes closed. We later got to share what our hopes and fears for the next 50 years would be like. There were interesting dreams, some hopeful, others not.
"I see our region and people united by common borders and identity without the stiff hierarchy of ethnicity and wealth, but the youth still lack inspiration."
“I see nostalgia of common-ness amidst spoils of distance of management.”
But these are only dreams: how about the reality?
If the East African integration process happens, there has to be some unifying factors. Language is one of them. Language is pivotal. Already there are some speculations to that effect. The language has to be indigenous. That leaves only one language: Swahili. Ugandans are a long way from adapting that. It is widely used by the police and army, taught in schools but alongside other foreign languages like French, German and Latin. Tanzanians and Kenyans already use the language and so far it has played a unifying factor in their respective countries. Rwanda and Burundi, on the other hand have French in common though Rwanda just joined the British Common Wealth and as a result is on a nationwide spree of learning English. Can we achieve this as citizens of East Africa? It most definitely calls for a lot of collective and deliberate effort!
What will the joint currency be called if we chose to get one? One of the lessons I learned was that it is critical for East Africa to look at other examples of regional integration that has been implemented before. The United States of America, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, Europe and the Arctic nations have all gone through some sort of integration. Having a common currency is something that we could learn from Europe, for example.
Agreeing on one currency will involve a lot of economics and compromises I imagine. But that is what integration is all about. Looking at each other as equals, same resources, and same benefits. The deadline for achieving a monetary union was in December 2012, however the outcome was another delay and postponement.
There have been border clashes for as long as I can remember. From the Turkana in northern Kenya fighting over cows with the Karamajong of Uganda, to the Migingo Island conflict. Also to note is the Zanzibaris and Tanzanians who have for a long time been at logger heads. As seen in a video produced by SID East Africa for the East Africa future day, one of the Zanzibari natives noted: "What Union? Union between Zanzibar and Tanganyika? We shall be killing each other!”
Security can be an impediment to integration but also a blessing in disguise. If societies and people weren't that different, we would definitely not be talking integration.
Cross border tariffs, non-tariff barriers, tariff barriers, taxes, customs: these are the key words embedded in the tale of integration as far as the trade is concerned. In the video watched, this is one part that the traders are looking forward to should the integration process pan out well. Most of them are expecting that the customs duties and taxes paid at the borders will be abolished. The majority of the traders cannot wait. Whether that is actually feasible with the different revenue bodies in the different countries is what we await to see. According to a report, The State of East Africa 2012: Deepening Integration, Intensifying Challenges, trade between the EAC countries expanded from $2.2 billion in 2005 to $4.1 billion in 2012. This means that should the countries merge their markets and trade, the future for East Africa as a whole is very bright.
In the dreams that we all envisioned in that room, I am sure no one went that deep. No one thought about the non-tariff or tariff barriers. No one thought about security and or what the name of the single currency would be if we all got to have one. But they dreamed, and envisioned what kind of an East Africa they hoped to have in the near future.
Integration is transformation. The transformation of East Africa means that finally we East Africans can form something for Africa governed by Africans. It also means that we as Africans can move to self-sustainable solutions to social, political and economic problems. This can be done in the promotion of good governance, good trade, effective entrepreneurship and education.
We all have a role to play, as far as regional integration is concerned. You and I may have the role of dreaming policies, while the next person's mandate is to implement these policies to further transformation. It begins with you and me. Other roles range from being the critics to making the systems benefits everyone. What matters is that when we choose to dream and be a part of the process, we are efficient at our roles.
* This is a follow up article of SID journal Development Vol. 55.4 'African Strategies for Transformation'
Ruth Aine Tindyebwa is a Ugandan female blogger and journalist. Her interests range from women and their use of ICT to climate change and youth empowerment. Ruth is the only HEINZ KÜHN East African Scholar in over 11 years. She loves writing and meeting new people. She is convinced that 'youth are certainly the future of Africa. But they have got to believe in themselves'.