To the uninitiated, managing a malaria patient can be a most baffling experience. Clinicians report that the symptoms of the disease tend to get worse as the drugs reach peak performance.
In non-medical settings, this often tempts caregivers to subject the patient to additional doses of medication, often with disastrous consequences.
That analogy could be a fitting description of the state of East African regional integration, a decade since the coming into force this month, of the East African Community Common Market Protocol.
The past two years have been particularly trying, with member states backpedaling from their commitments, at a time when regional economic cooperation should have been entering the deep end.
Contrary to what should be happening at this point in time, tariffs are raising their ugly head, non-tariff barriers are popping up and member states are taking recourse to unilateralism where the protocols of the common market obstruct political expediency.
Yet unsettling as all that might be, it points to a common market that is actually working. Member states are acting contrary to their commitments not because they don’t believe in the common market but because they were not prepared for some of the disruptions regional integration would stir up.
The pushback is merely a symptom of the lack of acceptance, at different levels, of the transient costs of a fully functional common market. In reality, there is more to lose than to gain now for everybody, if the community unraveled.
Despite some hiccups, the past decade has spawned a level of economic freedom perhaps last witnessed in more than half a century ago. The common market has opened trade and investment opportunities liberated individual enterprise and the creative energies.
For example, over that period, Uganda’s agricultural output has grown exponentially, thanks to Kenyan truckers whose incessant probing into the countryside has driven the commercialisation of crops as mundane as pumpkins.
The promise of a consolidated regional market has attracted investment, unlocking the potential of many sectors. Companies have expanded across borders, creating jobs while bringing a new dynamic to production and consumer economics.
All that has been possible only because the common market has succeeded at eliminating most of the barriers to trade, brought about a sense of shared prosperity through job creation and a measurable improvement in the quality of life for the average man.
If there have been moments of despair, the expansion of the EAC beyond the founding three members and the continuing aspiration to join the club by countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Somalia, attest to the achievements.
On the other hand, it can be argued that the subterranean tensions between some of the members would have had worse outcomes, without the glue of regional integration that binds them to some minimum commitments.
There is still some distance to cover before all the six freedoms - free movement of goods, persons, capital, labour and services; right of establishment and the right of residence are duly entrenched. This 10-year anniversary should be a good time to reflect and recommit to the idea of a regional economic community.