The benefits of a functional political, economic and geographical regional block cannot be gainsaid. The European Union (EU), besides a few glitches along the way, exemplifies what a union of nations can achieve. The EU has provided a high quality of life for its residents and helped pull up poor and small nations in the union.
Indeed, residents from smaller nations in the EU have enjoyed what would have been unimaginable were they on their own in the globe. Affordable healthcare, quality education, an efficient transport system and unhindered trade are just a few of the wins when nations come together in a formal union.
It is therefore unfortunate that the East African Community (EAC) integration plans remain just on paper. Little progress has been being made on push for a common currency, single business permits or licences. Indeed, many East Africans have unflattering tales on how they are treated at each of the countries’ border points.
Despite having a valid identification document and a passport, you are treated with suspicion and in some cases, indifference. Some trade and immigration officers are unhelpful and in some cases, demand a bribe to allow you in. They don’t understand the value of free legitimate movement of people and commodities.
Several nationals working in any of the six EAC states namely; Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan narrate unfair treatment doing business or working away from home. Last month, a Kenyan working in Tanzania for a reputable NGO was seemingly deported and had his bank accounts frozen. This has subjected him and his family to financial anguish and instability over an issue that could have been resolved amicably and swiftly.
Which brings to question the role of the legislators sent to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA). What laws and regulations are the men and women sent to the regional assembly pursuing to entrench integration? How are the MPs helping shape a smooth relationship among citizens of the six countries? What trade agreements can be made to ensure regional prosperity of this huge block?
It is laudable that the Democratic Republic of Congo is in the process of joining the EAC, which will make it an even bigger geographical regional block. However, for how long shall the EAC be bedeviled by small teething problems? Mistrust among top leaders and citizens themselves must be addressed once and for all. Politicians and economists from the region should lead in efforts to ensure deeper and meaningful integration. It has been done elsewhere and it can be achieved here. Goodwill and unity of purpose should inform all efforts towards unifying the region. This will spur economic growth and make it trickle down to citizens in the remotest parts of the region.