Kiir's term a new chance to make EAC work

South Sudan President Salva Kiir receives the mantle for EAC presidency from his Burundi counterpart Évariste Ndayishimiye. [Courtesy, EAC]

A question in the minds of observers is whether South Sudan leader Salva Kiir Mayardit will be an astute vision bearer for the East African Community.

Kiir, whose country joined the bloc in 2016 became its chairman last month after Burundi’s Évariste Ndayishimiye called it a day.

There are fears that he lacks the moral authority to rally the region toward peace and common aspirations. At home, it’s alleged he embodies repression and has betrayed his people’s hopes.

Also, Kiir is settling in for the new role when opinion is divided over the brittle peace process in South Sudan. In August last year, the president and other parties to the 2018 treaty extended it for two years from February this year following a missed deadline. The outcome could be dicey.

No matter how things pan out in South Sudan, failure will not be an option for the new EAC torchbearer who dons a giant Texan cowboy and loves threatening journalists that press freedom doesn’t mean you ‘work against’ your country.

Here’s my two cents for Mr Kiir. He must remedy all EAC’s past failures and pave the way for creative energies that will build good governance, innovation and economic consciousness. He must become politically moderate and seek a swift departure from the ‘all mouth but no action’ trend.

Kiir will need to look beyond selfish interests to inspire confidence. He must shed off the tag of dictator – real or imagined – and wear the mien of a diplomat who overlooks boundaries, converts them to stepping stones and builds bridges that will make the region formidable.

He should embrace the words of Sir Kristian Goldman who, in the ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’, said that the world needs peacemakers than warmongers…and war is unworthy since the dignity of humanity will be trampled underfoot. Yes, the new chairman could take us to Canaan or bury our dreams in a dark abyss.

Failure at home, if any, should not blur the future. Let Mr Kiir work with Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and now Somalia (the new kid in the bloc) to rethink what, where, and how we undertake production in view of a globalised economy. Empowering micro producers is a good starting point.

Addressing petty border fights, ending climate-driven hunger and addressing unwarranted sibling wars will equally be too important to ignore. We’ve seen countries auction and burn poultry and animals from across the border. In the Covid period, truck drivers suffered in neighbouring countries. Many were harangued before the courts for lacking test certificates.

Similarly, there have been barbs over consumer products like sugar, milk and eggs. A territorial conflict in Lake Victoria has split pet neighbours of Kenya and Uganda, with fishermen, mostly Kenyan, harassed, beaten up and made to pay illegal taxes.

Kiir and his technocrats must end obstacles to integration. Author Joyce Meyer says patience is not simply the ability to wait – it is how we behave while waiting for an outcome. Usually, when the wait time slogs, things tumble.

It is a new chance for the EAC leadership to move beyond meetings in Arusha to widen space for synergies on human rights, jobs, climate change, justice, migration, education, equity and other fundamental rights. The region is raring to go and Article 5 of the EAC treaty should ring a bell.

Intra-EAC trade has surged to $11 billion. Let growth in formal and informal trade, low tariffs, elimination of barriers, free movement of goods and people, intermodal connectivity and one-stop border posts impact lives. There’s no justification for EAC if it least benefits ‘hustler’ citizens.

Will Kiir finally make EAC a single market and an economic powerhouse? Will we have a vibrant trading bloc with diverse benefits such as employment rights, peace and stability? How about the region’s ability to provide development assistance? He has the answers.

The writer is a communications practitioner. X: @markoloo