THE inauguration of Athi River-Namanga (Kenya) through Namanga to Arusha in Tanzania this past week graced by Tanzania's President Dr Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, was one of the most significant steps in the journey towards East African integration.
Those who are old enough will recall that in the not too distant past, Tanzanians from the Lake region used to endure the uncomfortable road all the way from Kisii in Kenya to Arusha in Tanzania as they made their way to the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam.
The inauguration of the multi-million dollar road whose construction was funded by loans from the African Development Bank, has in effect eased and made doing business between not just between Kenya and Tanzania, but beyond all the way to Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia and Southern Sudan, much easier and cheaper.
Those who have been doubting the viability of East African community and dismissing regional integration as a pipedream that has no place in so- called 'independent states' that in actual state are begging nations, will have been put to shame, that these nations can and have implemented a joint infrastructure project whose sheer scope will add value to the lives of the common folk.
It is as a consequence of this road, that for the the first time, a pastoralist in Mt. Meru area in Arusha region can hope to deliver his livestock to the Kenya Meat Commission in Athi River and get back to his stock on the same day.
In similar vein, a farmer whose fresh vegetables need a market can dash across the border from Arusha into Nairobi and back on a smooth well done road. This project, is a sure winner for the people and takes regional integration, in one sweep, out of the red-carpet hall ways of State Houses and high class hotels, to the tire and tarmac where wananchi, for once get to enjoy the benefits of the East African Community.
Yet the road is only one of the reasons we celebrate the East African Community this week. The five East African Community Nations are under the regional infrastructure projects working jointly on power generation and distribution and re-distribution.
In effect, the Governments are aiming at ensuring power outages much known as load shedding in Uganda, power outages in Kenya and 'mgawo' in Tanzania are a thing of the past. To make this a reality, the EAC has signed up to share power from Ethiopia and redistribute power from the grid in Ethiopia initially at 400 megawatts but expected to be connected by 1000 megawatts through convertor stations to Tanzania and similarly to Uganda and Rwanda.
"The Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the Government of the Republic of Kenya intend to apply part of the proceeds of these credits to payments under the contract for design, supply, installation and commissioning of HDVC converter stations in Ethiopia and Kenya," read a tender notice put out in part.
The Kenya-Ethiopia interconnector will have a capacity of 2,000 megawatts, although in a deal signed last year by Kenya's Energy ministry and the Government of Ethiopia, the country intends to import an initial 400 megawatts of electricity.
Again, this is a project funded courtesy of the African Development Bank to the tune of US$348 million adding to the US$648 million approved earlier by the ADB Bank Board of Directors. In simple terms, power drives the economy without which, manufacturing grinds to a standstill, the service sector will not work and production gets severely affected.
This in turn means loss of jobs and when jobs are lost, disaffection creeps into the populace that does not choose nationality, age or gender. The reality hitting countries in the East African region is that it is in our interest to do everything within our power to generate projects that will ensure our people are kept in jobs.
Some of those must do things include entering into mega power sharing and business easing deals across border but also include our need to go out of our way to ensure that peace and stability prevails in our neighbourhoods.
It is a joint responsibility and explains why Tanzania's former President Benjamin Mkapa, is jointly involved with former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in monitoring the goings-on in Kenya 3 months to the next general election. To ensure that the gains are not lost seeing as President Mkapa was involved in reviving the EAC in 1997.
Again this week, the East African Development Bank EADB celebrated its 45th anniversary and one of its pioneer former Executive Directors, Iddi Simba had his say on economic outlook for Tanzania and the region in the coming years.
Speaking on TBC Programme Perspectives with Mzumbe University's Economics don, Prosper Ngowi, the respected former World Bank executive and Minister in the Mwalimu Nyerere's Government, said the choice for Tanzania was clear, "let us choose the direction we wish to go because so far, we have a free market economy without the prerequisite laws and practices that will determine that we can gain from regional integration. The world is not waiting for us to make up our minds."