When we were growing up, we were taught that East Africa comprised Kenya, Tanganyika (later Tanzania) and Uganda that during the colonial period shared common services. Now we are increasingly hearing the East Africa comprising Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. Where is Burundi and Tanzania?
Just before independence, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere came up with the idea of establishing a political federation of Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda. To facilitate this political arrangement Nyerere was even prepared to postpone the independence of Tanganyika so that all the three countries would achieve independence on the same day. But that did not happen. So Tanganyika got independence in 1961, Uganda in 1962 and Kenya in 1963. Soon after Kenya got independence the three East African leaders (Kenyatta, Nyerere[first photo} and Obote) met in Nairobi, Kenya and agreed to form a political federation. The formation of the federation failed to take off because a powerful group in Obote’s cabinet blocked it for fear that a white-dominated Kenya would swallow up the other two states. The three leaders then agreed to establish, in a hurry, the East African Community in 1967 which collapsed within ten years in 1977 largely for economic and political differences. The community was restored in the late 1990s in large part to forestall a possible confrontation between Kenya and Uganda. Museveni then pushed for the incorporation of Burundi and Rwanda into the community that retained its original name: East African Community. The primary purpose of the restored and expanded community was to promote economic integration among the five states based on larger population size, economies of scale and easy mobility within the community. Later, we are told, Museveni added a new dimension of political federation which he insisted must be fast tracked ahead of economic integration – an idea that apparently was not easily absorbed by others. Rwanda and Uganda began discussing and concluded that the colonial borders should be eliminated without suggesting what would replace the current five states. People and capital such as livestock would move freely and settle anywhere in internally borderless East Africa. As expected and with the benefit of hindsight, the project ran into difficulties. On balance, Kenya was interested in economic integration because it has a comparative advantage in that area. Burundi was unhappy because its cottage industries were being driven out of business by cheaper imports among other challenges. Tanzania played it cool sending the message interpreted by some commentators to mean that it did not wish to be rushed. The election of Uhuru Kenyatta as Kenya’s president appears to have changed the equation with Kenya now more interested in the political federation than economic integration – drawing Kenya closer to Rwanda and Uganda and distancing Burundi and Tanzania. While the Tutsi empire motive is driving Kagame and Museveni to support the political federation, it is not clear what Kenyatta’s motive is. Be that as it may, many Ugandans have dissented to the order in which East African cooperation is proceeding, preferring incremental and gradual economic integration without fixed deadlines ahead of political federation. Even the economic integration negotiation must give Uganda net and sustainable benefits for it to be accepted. So far Uganda has suffered trade deficits and is increasingly becoming home to people from neighboring countries without reciprocity accelerating Uganda’s population growth and conflict over scarce resources and public services With reference to unity in Europe, Fernand Braundel in his book titled *A History of Civilizations* (1995) has provided useful guidelines of what to do and not do in pursuit of a union. Braundel observed that “Unity by force always failed. .. Unity thus based on force can only provoke an explosion, once the grip of the dominant nation [or leader] is relaxed”. He further noted that there were also internal and institutional obstacles that can’t be easily solved by a treaty or compromise. In this regard he asked “Is it possible that the governments of ‘Europe of states’, in General de Gaulle’s phrase, will make concessions and sacrifices part of their sovereign right?” Have Ugandans been told how much sovereignty and in what areas Uganda will sacrifice for the sake of integration and/or federation? Will land ownership and utilization by non- Ugandans be among the sacrifices Uganda will make? Have the important issues of culture and traditions in Uganda been factored into the negotiation process? And who is preparing the negotiating brief – is it parliament or the executive branch? And what is the role of Ugandans at home and abroad in the debate and negotiations?