Until very recently, the East African region was a very peaceful place to do business and live in. However, recent developments around us are painting a 'perception' of insecurity.
This perception is largely due to the security situation involving our neighbors (the DRC, South Sudan, Somalia) and it is up to the EAC players to address it.
In 1998, twin bombing episodes in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi by Al Qaeda terrorists fired the early warning shots.
Later, an offshoot of the Al Qaeda groups predominantly the Al Shabaab gained ground in Kenya and exactly two years ago in July 2012, a spate of bombings killed sports enthusiasts in Kampala during a screening of the World Cup finals.
This sent more warning shots to all and sundry that terrorists could travel by road and injure innocent people anywhere in the region.
They were later arrested and security has been heightened. Security groups in Kampala tipped their neighbors in Nairobi that there was a looming and worse threat in its backyard. What has followed are on and off bloody scenes especially in Kenya prompting Kenya to send troops into Somalia to bolster what Uganda and later Burundi did under the AMISOM mandate in 2007.
Uganda has probably had the toughest of challenges of armed rebellion in and outside of its borders. Joseph Kony's marauding groups terrorized the whole of northern Uganda for over 20 years. Kony had bases in South Sudan, eastern DRC and are said to be camped in the Central African Republic. The Allied Democratic Forces in western and south western Uganda are now said to be preparing to attack from their bases close to the border with DRC.
Rwanda has been a victim several times and is now under threat from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) operating in the DRC. Reports of fresh fighting in North Kivu by a new rebel group that calls itself M23 has displaced hundreds of refugees into Uganda. In neighboring Burundi, Front Nationale Pour la Liberation (FNL) led by Agathon Rwasa is said to be operating in DRC's South Kivu province not very far from Tanzania.
Fighting and displacement of people is never a good thing. It is a humanitarian crisis that is also not good for business.
There is need for a concerted effort by the East African Community Member states to do something in the area of security. Already hundreds of trucks are stuck on both sides of the Uganda-DRC border with goods destined for Eastern DRC and exports destined for Mombasa.
The US has been sending out travel advisories following the Garissa bombings in Kenya thus hurting tourism. The Eurozone is suffering and the economic crunch is still biting. We need every investment and security, but more importantly, we have standing armies with capacity to combine and clean up the mess.
The next item on the agenda of the EAC and EALA should be to address security in the interest of the EAC Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Defense Matters.