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Of draft laws and regional integration

By | November 24th 2009

By Timothy Makokha

Last week witnessed two separate events held in two cities 255km apart but whose ramifications somewhat etch into each other. One laid a foundation for the dissolution of borders, the other — a blueprint of a new constitutional order — among other things sought to establish the country’s territorial integrity. Both have been described as landmark in more ways than one.

While Nairobi was busy poring through the pages of the Harmonised Draft Constitution by the Nzamba Kitonga-led Committee of Experts, Arusha was hosting leaders from five East African countries who were inking a protocol on the establishment of the East African Common Market.

By this agreement, over 120 million citizens of the five countries have earned the right to work and live in any of the partner states – of course with measured restrictions on grounds of public policy, security and health.

Labour mobility

According to the provisions of Articles 76 and 104 of the treaty, the protocol provides for free movement of goods, persons and labour; the right of establishment and residence and free movement of services and capital. But the signing of the protocol, which comes into effect in July next year, was the easier part.

Looked at in isolation, the two events herald a future with promise — a bigger, more resourced and diversified East African economy on the one hand and a country with a law tailored to her present circumstances on the other hand. But on closer scrutiny, the two events are a classic study in contradictions, self-defeating and effectively meaningless — at least for now.

To all intents and purposes, a draft constitution that proposes scaling down of administrative and political units in the name of devolution negates any motivations for regional integration. We can only go one way. Up or down. And so the significance of these two events is in the fact that they work at cross-purpose, outdoing each other and not necessarily only set on any common goal.

We have always known Tanzanians and Ugandans to harbour historical reservations about any arrangement that opens their borders to Kenyans. The signing of the new protocol has, however, painted Kenyans as either equally disinterested in the whole process as to care about the outcome or simply preoccupied with domestic politics that nothing else counts.

The attention the signing of the protocol has received pales in comparison to debate of the draft constitution, which was unveiled several days earlier and should be by now old news. We cannot care so much as to stop and interrogate the import of the new protocol that promises huge business prospects. Instead, we invest our all in a process that is largely political and whose deliverables are not measurable.

Difficult internal issues

Long before the protocol comes into effect, the three of the five partner states are united more by difficult internal questions and less by the desire to work together.

Kenya is battling one of her worst crises attributed to the sticky question of land.

In Uganda, recent altercations between the Government and the Buganda Kingdom over land, the current debate on the Land Bill and political uncertainties occasioned by President Museveni’s monolithic hegemony indicate difficult times ahead for Uganda by extension the East African Community.

Tanzania on the other hand objects to the classification of land as a capital resource and remains apprehensive about citizens of other countries freely accessing land as defined out in the Common Market Protocol.

Unless these issues are resolved urgently, the protocol is some hollow promise that will not count for tomorrow.

The suspicions, raw falsehoods and the public’s lack of interest in the developments tell of a process whose significance only the five leaders understand.

Unless the process is delivered back to the owners — the citizens of the member countries, the initiative will remain far removed from the people it should otherwise benefit.

We cannot have it both ways. It is either East African Community or a nation made of tribal administrative units disguised as regional senates.

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