19 June 2017

East Africa: EAC Integration - We Need to Get Serious

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The passion with which our president supports the integration of Africa and East Africa is amazing.

Africa is so balkanized with miniscule individual country markets that can never create a strong foundation for sustainable economic growth. In the face of world powers, these balkanized statehoods are vulnerable to international conspiracy of the global big brothers.

Africa is at the mercy of the unknown when one looks at our future survival. Our only hope would be in integration (not the late Muammar Gaddafi style where he wanted Africa to become one political entity irrespective of our diversity) but step by step as Museveni has proposed.

Museveni says that the foundation for African single state should be built on strong regional political/economic blocks like the East African Community, Ecowas, Sadc and Comesa.

I am told that by 1967, the East African Community was the global best practice model of economic integration. The European Union, the best economic/political block of our times, was no match to the formidable East African Community of the late 60s.

All of us know what happened when Idi Amin came on the political stage. He squabbled with Tanzania and Kenya and the integration model was disrupted.

By mid 1970s, the community had collapsed. With the strong leadership of Yoweri Museveni, Hassan Mwinyi and Mzee Daniel Arap Moi, the community was re-established step by step. We now see a community that has a reasonably working customs union, legislative assembly and East African Court of Justice.

A semblance of free movement of people, services and goods is slowly but surely taking shape and monetary convergence seems to be on the right track, although still sluggish.

The community has expanded in size with Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan as additional members. Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo, I am told, are at various levels of expressing interest to join which, if agreed, will put the economic block population close to, or slightly above, 260 million people.

Stretching from the Indian ocean to the Atlantic ocean, astride the equator, proud origin of the second-largest and longest rivers in the world (the Congo and the Nile), probably with the biggest deposits of some minerals including oil and uranium, with splendid fresh water bodies, bustling flora and fauna, combined with a beauty and natural resource wealth just imagined by most in the world.

This region is God's creation marvel. Had it not been the usual 'cautionary arrogance' of one original member state, by today we would probably have a political federation-the consultations on the matter in the region unanimously supported such a move.

UNSERIOUS

What I see today and in the recent past, however, does not point to seriousness to the integration agenda. I remember when we were involved in the initial preparatory activities for creation of the EAC, there was one country which would always appear like its major role was to bog down any development in the integration agenda.

They would attend all meetings in big numbers with their delegations supported by their "crème de la crème" from their planning commission who would work as clearing house for any documentation under discussion.

These guys seemed to have been briefed to kill any good idea. You would agree on something then, all of a sudden, they would complain about this and that and finally no conclusion would be reached (since all decisions were supposed to be arrived at through consensus).

We wasted a lot of time in this kind of ping-pong. I saw how, some time recently, a small refugee skirmish produced a bilateral diplomatic storm between two member states that one would not expect for countries priding themselves to be members of an economic/political community.

I hear that two member states hold a cat and mouse relationship, each unreasonably blaming the other of harboring whatever ill intentions against each other's national security. This kind of behavior is not good for our integration.

When it comes to projects that we have to implement together, especially the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), I smell a rat. We have been told that the SGR has to connect Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda and later Burundi to the Indian Ocean coastline. Kenya has implemented the Mombasa - Nairobi section and recently commissioned train operation on this section.

I am, however, told by former railway colleagues who are working on this project in Kenya that the next phase will be to connect Nairobi to Naivasha and Kisumu and later commence on the line to connect with South Sudan (Juba) via northern Kenya, leaving the original vital community link (Naivasha-Malaba) unattended to.

Of course the geo-politics behind this is understandable, but does these treacherous manoeurvres promote goodwill and the spirit of integration?

Somebody confided in me that the reason for leaving the important Naivasha-Malaba section is to disable Uganda's efforts to connect to Juba by rail, hence leaving the Nairobi-Isiolo/Archer'sPost-Lodwar-Nokodok-Juba route the monopoly to the lucrative South Sudan traffic.

I am also told that our Kenyan brothers are punishing us for deciding to have the export oil pipeline pass via Tanzania-connecting to Tanga Port, instead of Lamu.

Kenya wanted the pipeline to traverse through her oilfields in northern Kenya, connecting to Lamu Port, a route that had a lot of strategic, operational and economic issues compared to the southern route that Uganda finally selected. Are we somehow being "punished" for doing the right thing for our country and, of course, for the community?

These could be rumours, but the potency of the grapevine in developing countries is sometimes more solid than official communication channels. So, we need to keep our antennae up.

On our part as Uganda, we need to now strongly start considering development of the southern route Mwanza, Dar-es-Salaam. The Tanga-Musoma route is also another possibility (I was involved in a pre-feasibility study on this route way back in 1995-all indications were that this was supposed to be a good link to Uganda).

The development of Bukasa inland port should be escalated to include the redevelopment of Luzira and Jinja piers and someone should start looking at remodeling and retrofitting of our two wagon ferries to be able to link on SGR so that if our good friends, the Kenyans, connect to Kisumu, we can easily pick cargo from Kisumu for onward transportation to other countries.

The cargo for Kampala, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi can be brought to Portbell and Bukasa whilst the cargo to Juba can be taken to Jinja for onward transportation to Malaba-Tororo-Packwach-Juba.

Our two wagon ferries could be beefed up by purchase of more three wagon ferries which are SGR compliant. Transit security is a strategic matter that we should not take casually.

Countries have gone to war on account of denial of accessibility to international sea-lanes. We know how the attempted blockade of the Suez Canal and Panama Canal, and Egypt's blockage of the Straits of Tiran led to major wars.

Our future survival lies in our ubiquitous connectivity to the sea. We should desist from being at the mercy of one or two countries. During the early days of the late Laurent Kabila, I recall we had started working on a project to connect us to the Atlantic. This, as a priority, should be reawakened.

The author is the chairman, Governance Plus Advisory Group.

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