If you are a citizen or politician in East Africa, a dose of Panglossian optimism might be in order. During one of their annual rituals on November 30, 2013, leaders from Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda committed to ensuring that an East African Monetary Union would be operational by 2024. In plain speak, that meant that East Africa would have a single currency by that date.
The region’s leaders cannot be faulted for their ambition. However, three years to D-day, it would take an incurable optimist like Dr Panglo, a character in Voltaire’s classic, Candide, to believe that this target is still achievable within the original timeframe.
East African Community Secretary General Liberat Mfumukeko, probably faced the same dilemma as he presented his report card for 2019 on January 27, 2020. Choosing to offer hope over despondency, Mfumukeko reported that the Heads of State Summit had already assented to the Bill for the establishment of the East African Monetary Institute, a key lamp post on the road to a common regional currency.
Given his position as the current duty bearer in the fortuitous road to East African regional integration, Mfumukeko may have been constrained to state his plain view. The plain fact is that the region had witnessed its biggest rupture, when former allies Uganda and Rwanda fell apart in February 2019, resulting in partial blockade on free movement of people and goods between the two countries.
The much-touted EAMI is behind schedule on four primary convergence criteria for an East African Monetary Union such as an eight percent ceiling on headline inflation, 4.5 months reserve cover for imports, a three percent GDP ceiling on the overall budget deficit and a 50 percent debt to GPD in net present terms.
Three years to 2024, all member states are in a comfortable club of deviants. That, however, only tells part of the story. During a sensitisation workshop on East African integration in Kampala in 2005, Beatrice Kiraso, then the EAC Deputy Secretary General for East African Federation, came down hard on a journalist who asked why officials were touting the economic benefits of integration, without a word on human and people’s rights.
A decade and half after that dramatic encounter, the journalist might be entitled to an exclamation of deja vu. The community is in disarray with none of the members having the moral high ground to call the rest to order. By and large, citizen rights have taken a beating.
The EAC has not had a position on the trio of contentious presidential elections in the recent past. While member states and even corporates have a ledge on which to base grievances under the EAC protocols, aggrieved citizens struggle to find a grapple on which to base grievances against executive excesses.
Until there is a unified system of values on key issues such as human and political rights, the much-anticipated East African political federation, will like its economic antecedents, suffer a fortuitous journey.