The EastAfrican (TEA) is celebrating its 25th birthday this month. Question is, what kind of story will it be telling at the end of the next 25 years?
Think of a handful of changes. The political, economic, and intellectual elite who have until now dominated and shaped the region over the past 50 years were bred at the old “Big Three” of Makerere University, the University of Dar es Salaam, and the University of Nairobi.
Today, there are nearly 400 universities of varying shapes in an East African Community that has expanded to six members, from the historical three (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania).
For many of the students of these universities, their literary heroes aren’t Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and most have not read or heard of Okot p’Bitek, or any other writers whose name has an apostrophe.
Fast forward to 2045, and even if the likes of DR Congo and Ethiopia haven’t joined the EAC by then, the bloc will be approaching a closing in on a population of 500 million.
East Africa’s “Big Three” universities and people like Ngugi and Bitek serve a greater role beyond education and literature.
Over the decades, they have determined our political morality, the methods by which we speak truth to power, how we make allegiances to our culture, the tools with which we accept political authority, and what our countries are or aren’t.
Then you will have 500 million people, most of whom draw their inspirations from totally different sources. What kind of East Africa will that be?
I foresee—other things that will come to pass in the next 25 years. I recently returned from Kigali, and it seems the "Singaporisation” of Rwanda is fully on. By 2045 it could have become a hi-tech city state, something President Paul Kagame conceded is likely.
Fertile Uganda currently has the largest movement of smart, middle-class, innovative, and educated people moving to plant forests and farm.
The country will likely be far out the Netherlands of East Africa in agricultural terms in the next 25 years, part of it driven—ironically—by oil money. It will amass the power that comes from deciding whether most East Africans eat or not.
The next 25 years for Kenya, and onward to the end of the 21st century, the big state is likely to diminish as its counties rise, making it the closest thing in the region to the USA today.
Why? Already, smart devolved units like Makueni and Machakos, and cities like Kisumu, are more advanced than the central government in their thinking—much like in the US where states like California have environmental and justice policies that are ahead of those of the federal government. A new state model will emerge.
Tanzania, I believe, will be the country that wins the race to be the EAC’s logistics hub.
With its plans to bulk up its ports; the railway into Rwanda and Burundi; and Kenya’s new focus on the Voi-Taveta-Singida-Kobero highway as an alternative between Mombasa and Bujumbura, the Southern Corridor will eclipse the Northern Corridor.
It could make Tanzania the heart of the regional economy and the force around which an East African political federation is eventually built. It will be a wonderful time to be alive telling the East African story.
The author is curator of the “Wall of Great Africans” and publisher of explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3