Saturday, 5 January 2013

'EAC-mania' Obsession and haste towards a monetary/political union. Sentiments of a sceptic

When cautioning against the haste to stardom, former British PM Tony Blair once said that: “ ... history [...] is littered with [...] those who were supposed to be rising stars and ended up being shooting stars"
I had a brief stint with the Secretary General of the East African Community – Dr Richard Sezibera on twitter a few days ago. Well it began as a polite fair response to what I thought was an overly optimistic and misleading tweet, but it degenerated into a back and forth that I honestly didn’t expect. Dr. Sezibera (rightfully) sought to ‘sex-up’ the morale of his constituency of ‘EAC-maniacs’ to accelerate the integration process: the commitments and milestones towards a monetary union and political federation. My response was a patriotic constructive piece of criticism that I hoped could jog the good Doctor’s mind. However what ensued was a PR flair of defence and apologetics some of which bordered sheer defeatism devoid of substance and reason; obviously away from the object of my tweet. Dr. Sezibera went on to question my allegiance to the ‘East African nation’, beating the EAC drum a tad bit too loud and irking my already uncomfortable psyche and unsettled opinion about the ongoing EAC integration process that he presides over.

Nonetheless as a student of multilateralism and global governance, I elected to free myself of the yokes of semantics and sentimentalism on social media and today I bare a few realities about the East African Integration project that could benefit others willing to listen.

Foremost, I am in principle against the shuttling of East Africans into a monetary union and an even more laughable political federation that they are largely ignorant about and have not given their consent to. However, I favour the galvanization of the Common Market Protocol and the Customs Union to promote more trade, greater movement of goods, persons and services across the region which of course can thrive without the sharing of a singular currency or existing within a common political boundary.

Dr Ssezibera and Co. have failed to lobby the ‘EAC-sceptics’ in the region (especially elements in Tanzania) that continue to frustrate the implementation of the Common Market Protocol, yet they are wetting their appetites for a monetary and political union. Indeed folly is superficial to many yet not obvious as well to many alike. I mean you cannot muster the muscle and apparatus to reign in states to implement a customs union yet you yap so invariably about accelerating towards a more onerous ‘United States of East Africa’.

Like a friend of mine brazenly puts it: ‘There are a few people; a few tattered despots here in East Africa threatened by the expanding democratic space in their states who sleep and dream of controlling the economic and political trajectories of the region without legitimate mandate.’ The sound of ‘President of the East African Community’ must be music to their ears. These are the folks hell bent on creating a union of East African States without substance, will or plan for the regions prosperity but to gratify their perverse appetites for political power and economic imperialism. The problem I have with folks in Africa is the obsession with ‘ape-manship’. People are too fond of copying and pasting things they stumble upon elsewhere across the globe without paying sufficient attention to the contextualities (if there is a word like that) of sometimes very noble initiatives – the East African Community is  classic example.

There are pertinent issues regarding the manner in which the integration process is being handled that are not right yet are being effectively swept under the carpet by the secretariat and the project’s other apologisers that I will not falter to point out:

I – Suspicion and Mistrust amongst partner states
It is suspicion and mistrust that indeed hamstrung and sent the defunct EAC to its grave. Those ills are alive today, and maybe even more pronounced by the recent oil and natural gas finds in Kenya Uganda and Tanzania. If it is not Tanzanians perennially scared of the ultra-capitalistic demeanour of Kenyan entrepreneurs and investors, it is the worry of political instability and lack of a sufficient threshold of commonality in political ideals (may be there isn’t any distinctive political ideology anyway). If it is not the fear of marginalised constituencies in smaller partner states concerned about their likely domination in the EAC it is the more financially apt states whining about the likelihood of partner states like Rwanda and Uganda with huge domestic debt portfolios transmitting fiscal trouble.

Moreover financial commitment to the secretariat so far has been scanty signifying an apparent reluctance towards deeper integration beyond the Customs Union. The debates on the modalities for contribution – whether to fund the framework equally among partner states or to contribute proportionately based on the size of individual economies - are increasingly rocking the spirit of the union. There is also the lot that is cautious about the legal requirement that states transfer monetary sovereignty to the union that carries with it the risks of exposing them to external shocks transposed by weak financial systems in other partner states.

The suspicions range from socio-cultural, to economic, political and legal uncomfortabilties that the secretariat itself already commissioned a study and complied a report with a plethora of fears expressed by citizens yet so little has been done to address them. Nonetheless in the words of Dr. Ssezibera ‘we must run where others are walking’ towards the ultimate – the monetary and political union.

 II – Deficits of democracy and national authority
Nigel Farage, Leader of UK Independence Party (UKIP) perpetually roars the ills of hurling Britain into the EU in the European parliament and his fears are genuine. Fears that East Africans are entitled to learn. He argues that with multilateralism comes the cessation of natural authority; certain sovereignties are obviated and critical autonomies curtailed. Yet the multilateral frameworks so created are run by entities recruited outside the confines of conventional democratic processes like universal suffrage. They are normally a construction of handpicked technocrats with no public mandate whatsoever who wield dangerous perverse authority, antagonistic and disobedient of the civil liberties and aspirations of ordinary citizens. Such frameworks and their managers are seldom accountable to citizens.

And true to his word: look at the two institutions that the EAC secretariat has so far successfully presided over their building: the East Africa Legislative Assembly and the East Africa Court of Justice.  At what point in the process did any East African state hold a referendum or carry out meaningful public consultation to seek the opinion of citizens or their representatives on the conduct of these institutions? The East Africa Legislative Assembly is the classic exemplification of multilateral dictatorship and cronyism (I can speak authoritatively for Kenya). Political parties handpicked losers (political rejects who had lost elections elsewhere) based on their allegiance and patron client relationships who were then seconded by a hangovered parliament to the regional assembly. These are the same folks that will soon be handing down legislations (and policy material) to poor ignorant East African citizens who barely know them and their credentials.  

“If you rob people of their identity, if you rob them of their demoracy; all that they are left with is nationalism and violence. I can only hope that the Europroject is destroyed by the markets before that happens” ~ Nigel Farage (UKIP leader)

Look yonder: Greece is now being governed by a troika, a bunch of fellows, technocrats who fly into Athens and preside over the auctioning of the destiny of a people who were once the inventers of modern democracy. Helpless Greeks watch as they are lectured by foreigners on the character of government to have, and as the European Central Bank arrogantly thrashes down their throats fiscal policies that are obviously out of touch with their plight and aspirations. Yet they are bungled, unable to cope with the outrageous austerity prescriptions handed down by Eurozone big-boys and scared of the consequences of exiting the Eurozone in order to autonomously operate a distinct currency and reengineer the political economy of their country.
That is another awkward reality that East Africans might find themselves in someday (god forbid) yet it is effectively concealed from the common mwanainchi.

III – Eminent inequalities and lack of sufficient commonality in key integration ingredients
East African states exist within very divergent democratic and governance trajectories. To mean that there those that have made considerable progress towards good governance, constitutionalism, rule of law, democratic space and there are those who still have an appreciably long way to go. The duty of marrying these polities and conglomerating their unequal trajectories demands enormous capacity, political will and obligation that have been undoubtedly deficient and the situation doesn’t look like changing in the near future.
Then there is the thorny issue of access to natural resources, some that are spatially concentrated in some states like the unresolved issue of lake Victoria. Clearly there are marked inequalities in endowment with natural resources which will hugely determine the economic and political muscle of different partner states and tip the balance of power in the coveted union.

These are but snippets of the realities that confront the ambitious integration process that should keep the secretariat busy; working on how to address within the framework of the Customs Union even before thinking of greater unions. The need to build social cohesion across the region; to manage power relations among partner states; enhance legitimacy/credibility of the process itself through greater and more meaningful citizen engagement; and to forestall an effective conflict management mechanism cannot be overemphasised. If the intentions of the EAC are as noble and genuine as they should obviously be, then the project deserves a threshold of patience, tact and reason which the secretariat must accord it. Like in my tweet I reiterate that ‘we’ must be ware not to manufacture another Euro-like mishap in East Africa.   ‘We must interrogate the events that led to the demise of the defunct EAC, learn from the EU, SADC, ASEAN, NAFTA. Unfortunately when i possed this suggestion Dr Sezibera's response was that we must not focus out there because EAC is awesome
@rsezibera: @Okwaroh why don't we focus on eac? I think we are better than Europe”


  1. Thanks Okwaroh for the brilliant articles. I tend to read blogs/articles with refutation but found myself being convinced all through your text, wonderful.

    The first thing that irks me is Dr Sezibera's response that we should not focus (I read this as learn) on what happened in Europe. We have to learn from every lesson that mergers have taught so that we avoid the same pitfalls on our way. The second is the speed, hey! We need to get things right first rather that get them wrong fast!

    Away from the irks I believe that the suspicions and mistrust, the greatest hindrance, can be waned if the people in the East African community are first given the opportunity to taste some of the fruits of the merger. A common market is the best bait the secretariat could dangle. Though it might face some challenges due to the same suspicions and mistrust (a chicken-egg situation), it’s the only (in my opinion) way to let the people of east Africa integrate socially. When people can trade more freely and can move to offer their services across borders, they will talk and learn from each other. As an example, Tanzanians can teach Kenyans say decorum and we can pass some business skills. There is a way, even if far-fetched, that the end of suspicions and mistrust would mitigate the other stumbling blocks that you point out.

    It’s possible but we need to tread carefully.

  2. An awesome article, i particularly liked how u brought out the criticisms, these are issues that are swept below the carpet while we r being duped into believing how perfect such intergrations are... Kudos

  3. The analysis in the article is superb. I think where we always fail is being led with individuals who are politically appointed by those who are returning favors to them. What disturbs me is whose interest does these appointees serve? But again do the citizen have the voice/platform to propose what will favor them. To me ignorance on issues that surrounds us is our biggest enemy.

  4. I like the way you have articulated these issues here.This articles, rich with facts and analysis deserves to be on our national papers.I believe the quest for political and monetary union in East AFRICA is misguided pursuit.I share the same opinion with you that the more urgent goal is to expand the customs union to allow for free movement of goods, services and our people across our borders so that we create trade and investment.I'm not an economist but I've taught myself some basic economics and believe no country wants to enter into a pit that they would find themselves difficult to pull out from.Greek is an good example.We all know what happened in the EU.Our democracy is still weak for such integration and so is our currencies that are dependent on the performance of major world currencies.We don't want to run into a situation whereby after a short stint ,some countries would want to abandon the common monetary union because of some internal economic shocks only to come back to the old 'now useless' currency they abandoned.