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Future Day Part 1 – Hear what they say but pay more attention to what they don’t!

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As part of their Trend Monitoring and Horizon Scanning function in the Greater Horn of East Africa, Future Challenges, SID East Africa and the Rockefeller Foundation organized a Future Day focused on regional integration in the East Africa Community. I attended the event, and this is the first of three articles taking a broad look at the perspectives given by citizens I met before and during Future Day. In this article I look at the hurdles and challenges facing the integration process.

During the conference and when talking to people – especially Kenyans – you can easily get the feeling that integration is something which should have happened a long time ago. Kenyans have always been optimistic about integration, and to them there is only one stumbling block – Tanzania. Tanzania is seen as a reluctant partner who would be happy joining integration southwards not eastwards.

The irony here is that the original idea of an East Africa community was a dream of Tanzania’s first president, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. It is said that he even tried to delay independence of mainland Tanganyika to coincide with that of Kenya and Uganda so that the  three East African countries could form a federation when gaining independence together.  But what a contrast at Future Day when the video played in the hall showed that mainland citizens of Tanzania would like integration  – but without Zanzibar.

Nor are people in Zanzibar keen on having Tanzania. As one resident of Zanzibar commented in the video, “What Union? Union between Zanzibar and Tanganyika? We shall be killing each other!”

I discovered a different perspective during my conversations with Tanzanian residents on the sidelines of the conference. Ms.Aida Kiangi, Tanzanian Director of Act On Aid,  told me that people  should not be  fooled by the public stance of delegates from Tanzania, either during the conference or in other meetings. She said they talk in codes which only the people back home can understand. She agreed that integration would be a great thing for the whole community, but pointed out that local politics are so complex that even the minister in charge of the East Africa Community is opposed to integration. Digging deeper to understand the thinking behind opposition to the process, I realized that the citizens of Tanzania might be more involved in discussing the issue of integration than their counterparts in other countries, and especially Kenyans. Kenyans have it at the back of their minds that it’s a good thing and should happen sooner rather than later, but there is no meaningful involvement. The question of integration only comes up in discussion when there’s a major meeting between the heads of East African states, or when the media focuses on cross-border issues. But for Tanzania it is a major issue, actually an election issue which politicians run on or against during electioneering. At the heart of their discussions is the feeling that the collapse of the original East Africa community in 1977  was all Kenya’s fault. At the same time Tanzania also lost a great deal. To them everything was in Nairobi at the time and when the border closed, they remained empty handed.

Looking at the bigger picture, the challenges facing the integration process are way more than the slight reluctance shown by Tanzania. Here are some of the issues which came to the fore during Future Day:

Integration vs. Secession

The quote from resident of Zanzibar above sums it all up well. Some Zanzibari citizens do indeed want to break away from mainland Tanzania and this does not bode well for people who view East Africa as one community. Move to neighboring Kenya, and you can meet the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), which wants the coastal region to be declared independent from Kenya. MRC leaders cite the disparity between colonial agreements and deals struck in the post-independence era as evidence of the secession movement’s legitimacy. In 1890, the British acquired the coastal strip from the Sultan of Zanzibar and gave the region protectorate status. After Kenyan  independence, the coastal area was incorporated  into Kenya. And now some coastal residents who feel that they are not getting a fair slice of the national cake want to break away from Kenya. The time spent talking about secession is a wasted opportunity say those who champion the integration process.

The border dispute

Relations between Kenya and Uganda were very good for a very long time until, that is, a few years ago when Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni started claiming ownership of Migingo Island, a tiny island in Lake Victoria on the border between Kenya and Uganda. Conventional thinking has always been that the island is part of Kenya, but the Ugandan leadership didn’t want to go along with that. In one of the most bizarre feats of reasoning at the time, the Ugandan President admitted that the island is part of Kenya but that the water surrounding it belongs to Uganda. At one point they even sent in the Ugandan army to occupy the island. Kenyans took offense, and the President of Kenya Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga were urged to act decisively and deal with the Ugandans by whatever means necessary.  The matter almost got out of hand but both sides understood the common economic interests they shared. A survey team of regional experts from both countries was formed in late 2008. In July 2009 this team found that the island is 510 metres (1,670 ft) east of the Kenya-Uganda border within the lake, a finding supported by freely available Google Earth imagery. When all of this was going on, many people were left to wonder whether the push for integration in the East Africa Community was just a pretense. Some might say that the citizens of the East Africa Community want integration to continue, but they are sidelined by the leadership of member countries.

Politics and different political cultures among member states

The political landscape in the region is quite diverse. In Kenya you find fierce competition for the leadership of the country. In 2002, the change over  from the former President Moi to the current President Kibaki was hailed across the world as a perfect model for African democracy. Kibaki defeated the then ruling party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta. But in 2007 the goodwill of 2002 went out of the window as the country descended into chaos following claims of election rigging by the then opposition leader Raila Odinga. The international community lead by Kofi Annan stepped in and peace was finally restored following the formation of a coalition government between Kibaki and Raila. But contrast this to the situation in Uganda and Tanzania. Uganda regularly holds elections but just who will win them is always a forgone conclusion. As long as President Museveni is around, it is hard to see somebody taking over from him. On the other side in Tanzania, there is the permanent presence of one party, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi. The opposition always come out short, but even so it is important to remember that Tanzania has had more peaceful changes of leadership through the ballot box than any other country in the region. The entry of the Rwandan leadership also complicate matters. In Rwanda you have an efficient president by the name of Kagame but he is a guy who is not used to being challenged. There are claims of the opposition in Rwanda being crushed and jailed by order of the president.

So ask yourself how all this affects the integration proces. The answer is simple: the chatter on the Kenya side is that the likes of Museveni would probably want to try and impose what they do in their own country on the bigger East Africa region, while in Tanzania, people look at Kenya as a country in chaos, a situation they don’t want their own country to be any part of. There is a sense that Rwandans and  Ugandans admire Kenyans and hope to move forward with them as one community. As you can see,  it’s all in the name of politics.


Related Articles:

Agenda for the Future Day in Nairobi

Kennedy Kachwanya: Future Day Part 2 – Hear what they say but pay more attention to what they don’t!

Ruth Aine Tindyebwa: What happens when YOUR problems and MY problems become OUR problems

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