The EA Com­mu­nity isn’t work­ing? No, ac­tu­ally it is


The East African Com­mu­nity is still in good shape, though more and more East Africans don’t think so. The part of the EAC that works is not the glam­orous side. It is not easy to see, but is felt. Speak­ing in Kam­pala Wed­nes­day dur­ing his State of the Na­tion ad­dress, Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni il­lus­trated this, say­ing

Uganda pro­duces five mil­lion bags of maize but we only eat a mil­lion bags. If it weren’t for the EAC mar­ket, he said, those bags would have gone to waste.

How­ever, while the EAC as a Com­mu­nity is gen­er­ally well, the same can­not be said of its Sec­re­tariat in Arusha. Re­cently, I had a strange mo­ment when a very East African chap who trav­els around the re­gion quite a bit, asked “Is the EAC Sec­re­tariat still there in Arusha?”

On Mon­day, when the EAC bud­get was pre­sented to the East African Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly (sit­ting in Nairobi), the Sec­re­tariat had $10 mil­lion of its bud­get from last year cut back, among other rea­sons be­cause of dead­beat part­ner states. Trou­bled Bu­rundi and South Su­dan, have be­come what some­one called “hope­less de­fault­ers.”

How­ever, while the EAC as struc­tured is too de­pen­dent on State Houses to work, there are some bu­reau­cratic and house­keep­ing ini­tia­tives that the Sec­re­tariat can do for the in­te­gra­tion pro­jec­tion that it isn’t do­ing.

Uganda’s Min­is­ter for East African Af­fairs Kirunda Kive­jinja hinted at this when he urged the Sec­re­tariat to spend the lit­tle money that comes through on “in­te­gra­tion pil­lars” in­stead of “meet­ings and air tick­ets… not geared to the ac­tiv­i­ties to strengthen in­te­gra­tion.”

The EAC Sec­re­tariat hardly does any “con­stituency build­ing” work, yet it can af­ford $12,000 – small money, true – to do it.

It could cre­ate an an­nual prize of say $1,000 to be awarded to 12 in­no­va­tors from the EAC, two from each coun­try. Give a prize to a young per­son from each part­ner who has de­vel­oped an idea in agri­cul­ture, and an­other who has come up with a mo­bile phone app that does some­thing re­gional – in travel and tourism, health, re­tail­ing, what­ever.

It will be sur­prised at the re­sults, if it does it well. For many of these young peo­ple, $1,000 is a lot of money. They can ac­tu­ally do a lot with just $500.

These “small things” would make a big dif­fer­ence in build­ing sup­port for the Com­mu­nity, cre­at­ing a base that, in the long-term, would have a vested in­ter­est in a well-funded Sec­re­tariat, be­cause it put food in their mouths.

As it is now, it seems rea­son­able to ask whether EAC would suf­fer with­out a Sec­re­tariat in Arusha. There are many things it does, like or­gan­is­ing sum­mits, that can be con­tracted out to event man­age­ment com­pa­nies.

In­deed, for vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing else, there are pri­vate com­pa­nies and NGOS that can be paid to do the work. The EAC’S 2018/19 bud­get is $99.7 mil­lion. All the above can prob­a­bly be done for about 60 per cent of that sum.

And while we are at it, mem­ber coun­tries that don’t pay any­thing at all into the EAC, should be kicked out un­til they do. When a peo­ple are on a long jour­ney, a time of­ten comes when they have to make the tough de­ci­sion to leave the in­jured and in­ca­pac­i­tated be­hind to be eaten by wild an­i­mals or to find a cave to hide and sur­vive in.

Still, mem­bers like Bu­rundi that don’t pay any­thing into the EAC, should be kicked out.” We must ask whether EAC would suf­fer with­out a Sec­re­tariat. There are many things it does that can be con­tracted out to event man­agers

Charles Onyango-obbo is pub­lisher of data vi­su­aliser Afr­ica­pae­dia and Rogue Chiefs. Twit­ter@cobbo3

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