The ground on which the East Africa Community (EAC) stands has for a long time been shaky. Now, the shaking is fast mutating to tremors and soon enough it could become a full blown earthquake if the rivalries being witnessed among member states are not arrested.
By all accounts, the revival of the EAC in 2000 after the original club collapsed in 1977 was heralded as the best thing in efforts of integrating the economies of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and later Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. A decade and a half later, there is much progress and a lot to be proud of in as far as creating a big economic bloc is concerned.
Some of the achievements of the integration journey include the establishment of a Customs Union in 2005, a Common Market in 2010 and the signing of the Monetary Union protocol in 2013 which has since been ratified by all the partner states.
The establishment of the East African Community Customs Union has, for instance, led to an increase of intra-regional trade. According to 2014 figures, Uganda’s exports to the EAC rose by 10.8 per cent to $525 million in 2013, from $474 million recorded in 2012. This shows that integration has been beneficial in accelerating economic growth among member states.
In recent times, however, the dream of full EAC integration including the establishment of a political federation is under serious threats. In the past some member states, particularly Kenya and Tanzania, engaged in subtle economic rivalry. This was seen as nothing major because integration does not necessary mean that member states should stop pursuing their individual aspirations.
However, since John Pombe Magufuli assumed the reigns of power in Tanzania about a year ago, the restrained rivalry has ballooned to all new levels. President Magufuli has projected enthusiasm and zeal in his leadership style, in the process earning admiration and condemnation in equal measure.
His disdain for Kenya in particular, whether by design or default, has been real. Since becoming president, the Tanzanian leader has never visited Kenya and even gave the recent Tokyo International Conference on African Development conference in Nairobi a wide berth. More specifically, President Mugufuli is pushing the economic rivalry with Kenya to all new levels with little regard for EAC integration.
The Tanzanian leader has all the rights to steer Tanzania in the direction he believes best suits the country. In fact, the recent breakaway of the United Kingdom from the European Union is a proof that unity is not the end or a panacea for prosperity and that countries will always pursue selfish interests first to those of the bloc.
That said, integration comes with many benefits particularly in accelerating economic growth. It is for this reason that we believe the worsening tension among EAC members is bad for the integration dream. Leaders should be at the forefront in ensuring the community does not suffer the 1977 fate.
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