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Petty issues should not slow down East African integration

By The Standard | August 3rd 2020

The resumption of international flights, while it should portend good tidings, has laid bare the mistrust between Kenya and Tanzania.

Kenya’s failure to include Tanzania in the list of 11 countries allowed to fly into the country, for obvious reasons, initially led to Tanzania banning Kenya Airways from its airspace. Transport CS James Macharia, however, says the row has been resolved now.

Kenya banned international flights in and out of the country in April as one of the Covid-19 containment measures. At the time, the ravages of coronavirus were evident in most countries where the death toll rose by the minute.

Prudence dictated that countries protect their own people by barring flights that could play a bigger role in spreading the virus. That is not to say all countries adopted the same protocols.

In East Africa, for instance, Tanzania chose not to go for lockdown or close schools and churches, unlike Kenya and Uganda. That became a source of diplomatic friction between Kenya and Tanzania after the former closed the common border.

Tanzania reacted by banning Kenyan trucks and drivers from using its territory. Earlier, in 2017 and 2018 for instance, Tanzania not only burned 5,000 chicks said to have been illegally imported from Kenya, it auctioned over 1,300 Kenyan cows that had strayed into its territory, sparking a diplomatic row that resulted in both countries imposing trade sanctions on each other.

Such actions fly in the face of the long cherished East African Community integration dream that, unfortunately, has had too many false starts over several decades.

While other regional blocs in Africa, like the Economic Community for West African States and Southern Africa Development Community find ways to solidify their unity, issues that require nothing more than sitting down to round table discussions perpetually threaten the East African Community Integration.  

Countless times, Kenyan fishermen on Migingo Island in Lake Victoria have complained of harassment by Uganda’s security forces. Often, they confiscate their fishing gear and detain them for days.

Why this should be the case baffles. Our leaders must eschew such petty issues, choose diplomacy and work together for the good of the East African people.

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