By Jedidah Nguyo
Published March 7, 2015
On February 20, 2015, Kenya hosted the 16th Summit of East African Community Heads of State. Many media-consuming East Africans will tell you this much; but just ask them what exactly this East African Community (EAC) is and they do not have a clue.
EAC is an intergovernmental organisation comprising five states: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda. The organisation, whose headquarters are in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha, was founded in 1967 but collapsed ten years later in 1977. It was re-established in 2000 after a 23-year limbo. Some 15 years after its revival, most people still do not understand what EAC is. This could be partly due to the fact that little civic education and awareness campaigns were ever carried out at the grassroots to enlighten the people.
Now, EAC, with the support of the German cooperation (GIZ), has published a book, Discover EAC: An Avenue for Greater Livelihood, with the emphasis of informing the people of the region about the EAC and how it can better their lives. This 20-page publication contains basic information about the EAC: the vision and mission, the context, the treaty, the protocols, achievements, common market, freedoms, social sector and EAC anthem.
The book is divided into several sections, each carrying a story presented in a picture/comic format highlighting some of the benefits of the EAC either on an individual or national level. Some of the benefits include free movement of people and goods across borders of member states.
The book has used characters and dialogue in simple language to ensure that the reader understands the information presented therein. It can be read by children and adults alike.
The book, brochure, really, does not cover all the information about the EAC but it has indicated a website from which interested readers can access more information about the EAC.
Overall, as is often the case with marketing brochures, the publication presents EAC as a paradise. However to live up to what is presented in the publication, then a lot of work still has to be done.
Though EAC seeks to establish a customs union, a common market, a monetary union and a political federation, its path to regional there integration is littered with many obstacles. For instance, a bilateral agreement signed by Tanzania and Kenya in 1985 has seen the two neighbouring countries embroiled in a diplomatic row in 2015. The agreement barred both Kenyan and Tanzanian tourist vans from gaining access to each other’s airports and tourist sites. The two countries agreed to implement the agreement in 2009 but review it after six months. Tanzania has been reluctant to have the treaty reviewed in the spirit of the EAC’s objective of a border-less bloc. This has prompted the Kenya to retaliate by banning Tanzanian tourist vehicles from accessing Kenyan airports and tourist sites. This is a big blow to the EAC common markets protocol which advocates for free movement of people, goods and services. This leaves one wondering what purpose an agreement signed in 1985 when there was no EAC should still be in force 15 years after the EAC was re-established. This agreement, like many others that may be inconsistent with the EAC protocol, should have ceased to exist once the treaty for the re-establishment of the EAC came into force. However, this is not presented in the brochure that does not even a date of publication, but in the news media.
Though the book says East Africans can work in any partner state without a work permit, this is not yet happening. Only Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda on their partnership of the willing that that is driven by the spirit of ‘fast-tracking’ EAC integration, now have a single common tourist visa to the three states and their citizens just require a national identity card or voter registration cards issued by their respective countries to enter any of the three states. This does not apply to Tanzania and Burundi that are yet to sign the 2010 agreement. But the EAC brochure glosses over this most vexatious issue as it proceeds to celebrate the benefits of a border-less region that EAC is yet to attain.
Harmonisation of the curriculum at university level is said to be underway to ensure that students from the five EAC Partner States can study anywhere in the region but this, too, is faced by the challenge of varied education system and curricula across the EAC bloc.
In order for the EAC integration to succeed, all five partner states must read from the same page of the same book. The reluctance of some partner states–read Tanzania and Burundi–to live by the spirit of the EAC on everything is slowing down the integration process. If this trend continues then what the EAC aimed at achieving will remain a pipe dream.