Friday, November 07, 2014

Regarding The Aspirations, Needs And Futures Of The Citizens Of East Africa

The revived regional integration process is on course. But it is largely a project of politicians and bureaucrats. There is scant involvement of the people. For the community to integrate meaningfully, the process needs to be grounded in the aspirations, needs and futures of the citizens.

Eastern African politicians and bureaucrats owe their citizens at least one thing this decade: to prioritize and fast track the formation of the East African Community. They killed it in 1977; they shouldn’t take another generation to revive it. Why? Because it is the right of East Africans – let’s say it is our human right – to let the citizens of Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi or South Sudan to cross the borders freely, do business, fraternize, love and marry, study, seek medical treatment, holiday, look for work and be East Africans. For that is what they had been doing for millennia until the mzungu [European] came around and drew imaginary lines to separate them.

The so-called anti-colonial struggles were nothing but battles for human rights. They were about the right for native Africans to study, eat what they wished to, grow crops they wanted to grow, travel, do business, visit relatives; in other words, be Africans in their respective communities, languages, cultures, villages, homes and houses. Period. So, why are our politicians unwilling today to re-make what has always been? Is it because they don’t see it as a right; as the correct thing to do? Shouldn’t ordinary citizens then either ignore them and go on with what we have always done or insist that they legalize the union?

At the 3rd East African Academy in Arusha, Tanzania, between 4th and 5th November, this issue of regional union was the core point of discussion. It was debated as a human rights question. It was discussed as political and economic integration issue. It was spelled out as a cultural matter. But most speakers in the conference agreed that for the community to become, for the region to finally integrate, the process needs to be grounded in the aspirations, needs and futures of the citizens. It is these citizens who make the political constituency, the market for the goods and services that integration will make available and the socio-cultural capital that will give the community a lasting collective identity. The European Union isn’t just a market or a political union; it defines a people, culture(s) and a worldview.

The East African Academy together with Zinduka festival which runs from Wednesday 6th to Saturday 8th of November, 2014, are important events because they bring together diverse groups from East Africa but all with one interest in mind. These are the citizens of the region – lawyers, members of the civil society, university professors, teachers, journalists, musicians, thespians, farmers, ordinary people etc – converging at different barazas and spaces here in Arusha to reflect on how, why and when they wish to see the region fully integrated economically and politically. The political and economic integration will reduce the bureaucratic cultures that inhibit movement of individuals and goods across the region and undermine shared cultural identity that for instance is easily recognizable in Kiswahili, a language spoken throughout the region.

This is a region where people share languages, religious beliefs, cultures; communities straddle borders; individuals have intermarried; children from Uganda attend schools in Kenya and those from Kenya go to college in Uganda; Ugandans seek medical attention in Kenya whilst Tanzanians work in Rwanda etc. The shared lives and transactions between ordinary citizens definitely outweigh the econo-political considerations about loss of economic control, jobs and political authority if the region is to become one economic zone and a political federation. The supposed fears by the politicians mainly camouflage the fact that East African Community integration is also about how the citizens of the region can benefit from minerals, natural resources and job opportunities available in the region rather than just respective countries. And this is why the highlight of this East African Academy, human rights, is a most appropriate topic for conversation over the dragging integration of the region.

Probably the only way to push the politicians in the respective capitals and bureaucrats at Arusha to speed up the integration is to go back to the old ideals and ideas, as Samir Amin urges us. One of those ideals/ideas is that power and authority exercised by politicians and bureaucrats derives from the people, voters. These voters therefore have a right to demand that it is their inalienable right to travel, trade, work, live, own property, study etc in the region without visa hindrances. Several speakers at the Academy noted that as the countries of the region pursue democracy through institutional and constitutional changes, these gains are undermined by a political class that is unwilling to allow more freedoms to the citizens. These concerns about emerging dictatorial tendencies in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, according to several speakers, demand perpetual vigilance by wanainchi [citizens]; and not just human rights defenders.

But as other presenters showed, the struggles to protect and enjoy the rights that the constitutions of these countries guarantee, among which, one imagines, would be the right to association beyond the respective countries’ borders by their citizens, have to be led by those well-informed in the ‘new’ laws that are drawn up every other day. Considering the considerable illiteracy of East Africans in the English language – even in Kiswahili – yet the protocols governing the community are in English and generally expressed in legal jargon; human rights advocates, especially those with a background in law, have to be at the forefront of the efforts to realize the dream of a unified region. However, the civil society has to transform those energies into a people-driven movement that is broad based and spread through the region creating a force of solidarity among wanainchi.

 by Dr Tom Odhiambo from here

Whilst not a call for socialism as we  might hope to find, this is a powerful message for worker solidarity, and wider community solidarity, spreading outwards with an aim of inclusivity by removing the restrictions of false borders. East African countries, as West, North and Southern African countries, like EU countries and others in the western hemisphere are not organised to the wishes of the people. Nowhere do we have a democracy determined by the people for the people. Here is one more struggle against the rank hypocrisy of our capitalist-run world society. Solidarity to all in their struggles across the world.


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