Article 118 of the treaty establishing the East African Community mandates partner states to take joint action towards preventing and responding to epidemics, pandemics, non-communicable diseases and other ailments that may endanger the welfare and health of partner states, and their citizens.
Whether the Covid-19 pandemic will do what other hinderances of the block could not divide up an effort to create a peaceful, prosperous, and a powerful political integration remains to be seen.
The illusion, my people, or my country first, is one that some partner states seem to be putting forward in exempting themselves from the collective response and mechanisms to contain the virus.
Now more than ever, this should have been a period for greater collaboration among partner states; not for indifference, competition or might.
Elsewhere, beyond the EAC or Africa, regardless of the economic might or advancement of the health sector, everyone is pitching in. For example, Luxembourg has stood with France, while Czech Republic donated protective suits to Italy and Spain. This is the spirit we should be seeing or should be experiencing with the EAC bloc.
Even then, we should see partner states working jointly or exercising high level of flexibility, including the possibility to introduce new containment measures such as speed testing, and relay trucking as the situation dictates.
Whether there are challenges or issues between individual states or leaders, this is not the right time to not work together. Instead, this should be an opportunity to experiment and mend such relations for the enduring peace, health and welfare of the people of East Africa.
Also, the present situation should not be about which partner state is most affected, or those that have felt the impact of the virus least, but rather, how collectively the bloc can confront the threat.
If we cannot stand together at such a time, what would be the benefits of the EAC?
As a matter of fact, Tanzania is already smarting from ignoring some of the EAC guidelines such as physical distancing while Burundi is unconcerned, yet both expect free movement of persons, labour and services as per article 104 of the treaty, and 7 of the EAC Common Market Protocol.
As we talk of who wins and who loses with this pandemic, the strategic advantage goes to those working together through planning and co-ordinating to avoid oversight in judgement or in experiencing negative repercussions like disruptions in the logistics or supply chain.
In fact, as lockdowns ease, the heads of state should jointly be thinking of restarting the economies, and lifting of border restrictions for EAC citizens, albeit with increased regular cleaning and disinfecting of high traffic ends such as airports, beaches, and transport hubs.
For the EAC citizens, now is the time to urge our leaders to stand together and promote the sense that some shared sacrifice today, will lead to shared prosperity of the block tomorrow.
With the prevailing situation, the EAC currently faces the greatest solidarity test. And Covid-19, will help expose how committed partner states are to the bloc’s values and instruments establishing the community.