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Kenya-Tanzania quarrel bad for regional bloc

By Levi Obonyo
Friday, May 22nd, 2020
Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta (right) and John Magufuli at a past meeting. Photo/PD/FILE

It has been a troubled time for the East African Community bloc. There are internal challenges as Burundi went to the polls this week, while South Sudan is limping through its independence story. 

Uganda and Rwanda have been quarreling over a border, while Burundi has been suspicious over what has been going on in Rwanda.

The big deal, however, has been the spat between Kenya and Tanzania brought about by the Covid-19 crisis.

Kenya has been concerned that people coming from Tanzania carried the virus and Kenya moved in and closed the border for all but goods.

You can feel the reverberations when the region’s two largest economies start going at each other.

Kenya leads the region with a GDP of almost USD 100 billion, followed by Tanzania at about USD 63 billion.

The remaining economies of East Africa have a combined economy nearly the size of Tanzania’s. 

With a population of nearly 200 million people, East Africa provides a rich market in many sectors: tourism, agriculture, mining and now with the discovery of oil in Uganda and Kenya, gas in Tanzania among others there is a range of rich picks for any investor.

So why would these neighbours who aspire to live in a community not try hard to do so? There are many areas of commonality in the region. 

The flooding and rising levels of Lake Victoria was felt across the region in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. 

The peoples of the region are spread across the region for example, Luo in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, Meru, Pokot, Kuria, Samia, Masai among others.

While there are many Teso people who call Kenya home, their King lives somewhere in Uganda and makes occasional royal visits to check on his subjects in Kenya.

The partnership between EAC countries is not new. It has its roots in colonialism where the regions started working together as early as 1917.

Kenya came together with Uganda to form a Customs Union, later to be joined by Tanzania. 

In 1948, these nations came together to form the East African High Commission as they fought for independence.

In 1961 that organsation became the East African Common Services Organisation that would give birth to the EAC in 1967.

Under this umbrella they ran several services together: harbour services, the railway lines, the airways among others.

Then politics came in and scattered everything. You can guess who the main culprits in the political games were: Kenya and Tanzania.

And now these two seem to be at it again. 

Since the rebirth of the EAC, with its headquarters where the old one was in Arusha, there have been many successes with dreams to eventually move towards a political federation. But if a virus can stir the nest this much, where is the hope?

Globally, the trend is towards integration. Granted, most of those integrations are facing a strain at the moment.

The European Union, the best known of them, is struggling under the strain thrown at them by the Trump presidency, and the surge of the right wing movements in Europe.

However, there are many benefits that we stand to enjoy together rather than apart that Kenya and Tanzania should put their egos in the freezer and move forward for the befit of the region’s peoples. 

The EAC already provides for ease of movement of people within it. The integration of services through the customs union, for example, is indicative of other areas where pooling together would lead to greater returns. 

In education, for example, the Inter University Council for East Africa, the only institution that survived the collapse of the Community and now thrives under the new banner has secured platforms for common research, harmonising and setting of educational standards at the university level, and providing avenues for common collaboration in the education sector. — The writer is the dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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