East African Integration: Githeri And Matooke

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I consider myself a true East African, I have lived in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, and all the nations are special to me. I grew up eating Githeri, matoke and groundnut sauce, pilao and chapatti and sombe with fish, as well as speaking the languages of all countries. So I am a fully integrated member of East Africa and I’m comfortable navigating the streets of Nairobi from Westlands to Eastleigh, in Kampala from Mengo to Bugolobi, Arusha, Mombasa, Dar, Kigali, even Bujumbura. However, I’m an exception, most people in East Africa have never left their country let alone lived in another country for an extended period, so proving to them that the East African community is a good thing is much harder. For now, the East African community is supported mostly by governments who see the benefits of integration, as well as a business community that needs to expand the market.

The EAC is as much a return to the past as it is the future, the first EAC was formed after independence in the 60’s when Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania formed an economic alliance. To paint of picture of how it was then, you could take a train from Kasese in Western Uganda near Congo to Mombasa in 12 hours, this was built first for the British to get their minerals to the sea quickly. In that respect we have moved back because it takes weeks for goods to cross borders now, due to poor roads, borders, corruption and many other problems. The removal of trade barriers is still the biggest obstacle to integration, the benefits are balanced with costs. Kenya stands to benefit most being a manufacturing giant, its goods are to be seen everywhere in the region and Mombasa is the main port for the region.

The free movement of goods, capital and people is essential for integration but the EU model of full monetary and political integration was the template for East Africa but that model is proving to be a failure as we look at the EU. With nations developing at different speeds, with different internal politic dynamics makes it hard for integration. What people in the region want is a common customs union, free passport-less travel, the right to work anywhere in the region, and to be part of a wider market. East Africa is a market of 120 million, it has the potential to be one of the biggest trade blocs, with agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and services being the best placed to succeed. The biggest potential benefit will be political, the tribal politics we suffer from can only be cured by looking beyond our noses.

For Rwanda, it will be a delicate balance, we are yet to develop local industries, but we are flooded by cheap Chinese, Kenyan, Ugandan and other imports. Goods produced in EAC pay only 5% customs, so Rwandan businesses find it hard to compete. It is going to be hard to make it beneficial for all nations. Tanzania and Burundi are cautious, seen as conservative because it would affect them adversely to start with, Rwanda is open to ideas and implements them fully, Kenya and Uganda are enthusiastic as well. We need infrastructure development, Kenya is building a new port in Lamu and Mombasa is being revamped, the road from Dar-Es-Salam to Kigali has been fixed, railways are being revamped, fibre-optic cables are being laid, this is going to be the backbone of the EAC.

In time we will see the borders go down, and we will be able to drive from country to country. The discovery of oil means that we might be self-sufficient in energy. The inclusion of Southern Sudan looks certain and Somalia would also help. Somalia is an example of regional cooperation, with Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia and other countries taking the lead in helping a country out of war. The EAC started as a copy of the EU but it has gained its own identity and direction, at the heart of it is a can do attitude, and the belief that we can lift each other out poverty and that we have enough to succeed.

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