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Saturday, September 5, 2009

An East African Federation: Big dream or an inspired vison?

What exactly is East Africa in the 21st century? Between 1967 and 1977 the East African Community comprised Kenya Uganda and Tanzania. Since the collapse of the East African Community, these three countries have walked divergent paths.

Under Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki, Kenya took a boisterous and dynamic path. Kenya’s path has generated staggering social inequality that has been fired up by corruption, and ethnic strife and impunity. Today Kenya is the most unstable of the three countries. Ugandans lived through a brutal and bloody dictatorship under General Amin. Today Uganda is suffocating under the arrogant, unending presidency of Yoweri Museveni. Tanzania is just emerging from the economic disaster wrought by Nyerere’s socialist experiments.

In 1999, Kenya Uganda and Tanzania resuscitated the East African Community. In 2007, Rwanda and Burundi formally joined an ambitious vision a political conglomerate. But who really wants political federation? Tanzania is not excited, fearing that its economy will be overrun by Kenya and Uganda. Museveni hopes to end his political cap his political career as the first president of the federation. But Museveni is now more concerned about how he will move Uganda’s oil to China. Kenya has expansionist ambitions for its fledgling service sector as hub and gateway to an expanded East Africa economic region that will certainly include Eastern Congo and an independent Southern Sudan.

Paul Kagame hopes that an East Africa federation might open up markets and export corridors for Congo’s vast wealth through Rwanda. China, the most voracious external actor is hungry for Congo’s timber and mineral resources shipped via East Africa, hopefully through the port of Lamu. I am sure India is looking. But what is in the federation for Burundi?

But there is palpable skepticism. The idea of a federation might just fizzle out. It is hard to see how a federation will gel when a local trader cannot move onions across the border at Namanga. Raila’s marauding followers who love to vent on the railway really get on Museveni’s nerves. Then there is the needles red tape and epileptic negotiation processes in Arusha.

I am amenable to surprise. Maybe we pull this off.Who knows?

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