In an interview with The EastAfrican last month, President Paul Kagame was asked about his plans for the East African Community as the new chairperson. He said that there is a need to take the ideals of the Community to the people.
“The last time we met in Arusha there was an emphasis on us taking the ideals of the EAC to the people. The EAC exists and the citizens need to buy into and own it, so that it is not just leaders talking about it,” he said.
And to clarify how the Community should benefit citizens, the President went on: “EAC is about the feelings and experiences associated with travelling to other countries. It can’t just be on paper but practice. People want to do business. They have families in all these countries and if you stand in their way, it defeats the purpose.”
Indeed, what ordinary East Africans want is to move, reside in and trade freely in the region and therefore there is a need to know the ideals of the Community so that when this doesn’t happen as is often the case, they can hold their leaders to account.
So what are EAC’s ideals and how well are they respected and fulfilled by the Community’s leaders?
The ideals of the EAC are discernable in Article 6 of the treaty that established the Community and Article 5 that spells out its objectives. The ideals are outlined as fundamental principles that are supposed to “govern the achievement of the objectives of the Community” as the treaty establishing the EAC states.
They are mutual trust, political will and sovereign equality; peaceful co-existence and good neighbourliness; peaceful settlement of disputes; good governance including adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, accountability, transparency, social justice, equal opportunities, gender equality as well as the recognition, promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights; equitable distribution of benefits; and co-operation for mutual benefit.
Even conditions for acceptance to the EAC contained in Article 3 of the treaty signed on November 30, 1999, which came into force on July 7, 2000 include, “adherence to universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, observance of human rights… and contribution to the strengthening of integration.”
The overall objective as stipulated in Article 5 of the treaty, besides free movement of people, goods, and services within a common market and shared currency, is to have a political federation of East Africans not divided by geography, ideology, administration or tribe.
None of the six member states would be found to be compliant with the all the ideals. And if the majority of East Africans were aware of these ideals and the commitments their leaders made, it’s plausible to say that probably no leader in the Community would escape the wrath of the people if all the leaders in the Community were truly accountable and they aren’t.
As you read this, there is nearly zero trust, for example between Rwanda and Uganda. In fact, relations are so bad that even trade between the two is suffering as a result of accusations that each is bent on overthrowing the other’s government.
In Burundi, poor relations with Rwanda lead to the closure of the border. Kenya and Tanzania are endlessly squabbling over trade.
Meanwhile, South Sudan is bloodied by the endless power struggles between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president Riek Machar.
In that sense, if we said that there is any country in the EAC that lives the ideals of the Community, it would be a lie just as it would be wishful thinking to say that East Africans understand why their leaders are endlessly wrangling; closing borders; sabotaging trade from this or that country or supporting rebels fighting neighbours.
Therefore, yes there has been some progress like in the areas of establishing the customs union and the common market; but what has been happening recently is reversing even this “small” achievement.
That means that rather than advancing the ideals of the Community, it’s correct to say that EAC leaders are undermining them.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR, Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd, E-mail: ckayumba@ yahoo.com; twitter account: @Ckayumba