KIRUKU: Different countries, one people; let’s sing to jumuiya
Wimbo wa Jumuiya Afrika Mashariki will now be sang alongside the Kenyan national anthem. The EAC flag will be hoisted alongside the Kenyan flag, too. This is a bold move that will definitely be a plus for the integration agenda. The directive by the Kenyan Cabinet ensures that the country now joins Uganda in this effort, propelling East African Community integration from being more of a myth but a to a reality known even to schoolchildren.
For a long time now, there have been concerns that EAC integration is state-owned and president-led. Concerns have been raised that regional citizens have not been involved in the various programmes run by the Community. Decisions are formulated in boardrooms by a few people who lost touch with the grass-roots. This has seriously undermined efforts by the EAC leadership to build a powerful and sustainable economic and political bloc.
As a result, the benefits of regional integration as enshrined in various treaties and agreements remain unknown to many citizens. No wonder, we have Customs officials at border posts who still ignorantly demand border fees from traders and travellers. And if such officials are in the dark, one shudders to think of the situation of the ordinary man in the street.
This lack of implementation of key policies has also led to deep-rooted suspicions among regional citizens. When agreements, treaties and protocols appear only on paper, people will naturally express their discontent and doubt the worth of the entire integration effort.
In this regard, the Common Market and Customs Union protocols were meant to ease the movement of services, goods and people. This is still not the case: Even where implementation has been attempted, these efforts are often negated by a myriad non-tariff barriers.
To date, there are still numerous complications: In getting work permits; corruption among various key agencies and personnel; issues of double taxation; difficulties in moving goods across the region; and lack of harmonization of laws governing various aspects of trade between the partner states.
With all these challenges, it is an uphill task to sell EAC integration to the region’s citizens. It is therefore important for leaders to work in collaboration with the EAC Secretariat and ensure policies, protocols and agreements are fully implemented.
The gains of a united political and economic bloc far outweigh the loss of sovereignty or any advantages at the national level. The media, which has often been accused of spreading discontent among the citizenry, must be proactive in restoring trust among the people.
In so doing, we must make good use of our cultural ties. Culture binds people together through a common language, customs and traditions. The EAC arts and culture festivals, JAMAFEST, have done well in promoting regional social-cultural integration; these were inaugurated in 2013 through a decision of the Council of Ministers.
The EAC school clubs, which will go a long way in spreading the EAC integration agenda, should similarly be promoted in schools. It is the duty of the ministries of EAC affairs in partner states to promote these clubs and demystify regional integration among schoolchildren and the youth.
The university debating clubs that were inaugurated by the Secretariat are unfortunately doing little to promote integration among university students. Rethinking the strategies used and integrating even middle level colleges will help to widen the audience.
The Secretariat should also consider engaging and involving rural persons – and especially women – in their activities.
It is evident that to make EAC integration a reality, much more will need to be done than mere singing and standing at attention when the EAC anthem fills the air. All regional citizens stand to benefit from a united bloc, the opening up of borders, wider markets, more competitive products, and possibly lower prices. A larger bloc also means a stronger bargaining position when negotiating with other trading blocs. All this can only be good for our economies.
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