The East African common market was signed in Arusha,Tanzania a few days ago but as I noted during my travels through East Africa recently the road to one East Africa is still a long one.
The East African community doesn’t apply here, the immigration official at this Northern Tanzanian airport barked out at my attempt to seek a more East African reception with my Ugandan passport as I processed my entry into Tanzania recently. My illusion of a concretising vision of one East Africa was swiftly and rudely dashed. I decided to take a road trip back from Arusha to Kampala on return to see for myself how the dream of one East Africa is shaping up and was instead greeted with four immigration desks within Kenya and Tanzania. Waiting at any of these desks doesn’t make you feel any less foreign than say, the Australian standing next in line. The sense you get travelling in East Africa particularly in Kenya and Tanzania is that ordinary citizens in these countries don’t share the passion of their national leaders or at least their rhetoric when it comes to integrating into one East Africa.Even the strategic importance of one East Africa and that this drive for one East Africa is largely a top down vision which hasn’t yet found popular acceptance among your regular East African. Mobilising popular support among the citizenry of the member countries will be critical to any integration efforts. It should not be taken for granted that East Africans are for one East Africa. The current leaders are transitory and for this vision to be sustainable it has to take root within the populations of the member countries. The East African, in its latest issue, reports that Uganda manufacturers are making efforts to stall the East African common market for as long as they can because they loath the ‘blue band’ effect or the avalanche of Kenyan products in their domestic markets once the East African common market comes into effect. Tanzania has already put road blocks on the proposal for an East African common market. The future is in integration because small states are not viable and can no longer compete in an integrating world with countries the size of India and China which is why the Europeans are pushing for the highest possible union among themselves amidst these global blocks. I often find it ridiculous that a country the size of Uganda will compete on the same terms with countries such as the United States or China at the Olympics, the World Cup and yes, at the World Trade Organisation or at the United Nations given their clearly superior resource pool, economic, human and otherwise. That a country with the clout of Germany or France will seek strength in the wider European Union only tells you that countries like Uganda or Kenya need the East African community because on their own they can’t compete favourably. The current African political boundaries were established as a colonial convenience during the scramble and partition of Africa and countries such as Rwanda and Burundi were carved out as tokens to Belgium and in the case of DR Congo, as personal property of Belgian King Leopold. Most current African states have small markets that can’t support their home industries.Travelling in East Africa also illuminates the infrastructural impediments that stand in the way of the realisation of the full potential of integration. Only a leadership failure to grasp the strategic questions confronting their countries would explain why the road from the border town of Namanga in northern Tanzania to the now regional town of Arusha is not tarmacked. This road is clearly a lifeline for north-eastern Tanzania. For starters, Nairobi, in geographic proximity terms, is nearer Arusha than Dar-es-Salaam. On the way to Arusha, you meet several petroleum and other goods' trailers from Nairobi pointing to the economic importance of this route but you will be surprised that this route is not tarmacked. Paradoxically, it is easier to call Britain from our countries than say Burundi. In the words of Martin Luther King, ‘I have a dream’ that one day East Africans will walk the same road as fellow countrymen and realise that their destiny is one and the same.