By Charles Okecha
I have read with optimism recommendations and reviews of the regional leaders under East African Community (EAC) bloc about progress towards cooperation of regional states.
It gave a green light to a process of drafting a constitution for the eventual political federation. The first episode of the Post-Independence EAC was snuffed out in 1977.
A year later Uganda and Tanzania were embroiled in full scale war. It is thus evident that the cooperation was fragile and imploded under the pressure of regime change in Uganda.
Implying that regional leaders should work towards the actual integration of the peoples of East Africa, rather than abstract drafting of constitutions and signing of treaties or else a similar fiasco is inevitable.
In fact the post-Independence EAC rotated around sharing resources like railways, harbours, airways, aviation facilities, educational links like students exchange system and East African certificate of education.
The vouchers of the East African Railways and Harbours, emblems on the buttons of my dad’s uniforms and the long tours we made by train are some of my precious childhood memories of that EAC.
Yet during the Ugandan turbulence, thousands perished. Those who fled to neighbouring Kenya found themselves in refugee camps or remand prisons. Professionals like teachers were stigmatised for snatching jobs from the indigenous.
Essential commodities like soap, sugar, salt and paraffin were smuggled across the borders under many life threatening circumstances.
Although it was not the intentions of the Kenyan government to harass Ugandan exiles, there was no bond of association between the citizens of the respective countries.
One side spoke Swahili while to the other it was a loathsome brutal regime language. Had Idi Amin not attacked the Kagera Salient in 1978, nobody was willing to pay the price for Uganda’s reprieve.
Apparently, Ugandans are more cordial than the rest of the region.
They have a strong bond with Rwandans whose leaders lived and studied here. Nevertheless many lived in camps in dire conditions and did the worst odd jobs for survival.
However, their triumphant home return and ultimate settlement has atoned for all the wrongs they suffered in Uganda.
Regional leaders are not governing geographical territories but people. There is urgent need for stirring up interaction and cooperation between the respective populations for the EAC dream to become a long-lasting tangible reality.
In addition to administrative facilities like the joint identification system we should:
1. Accelerate the teaching/learning and use of Swahili in schools and day to day communication in the non-Kiswahili speaking regions.
2. Introduce a unifying currency namely the East African Shilling alongside the currencies of respective countries, the way the Euro is used.
3. Provide cheap and affordable transport links through road and railway networks.
4. Enhance the regional security against crimes like car theft, drug/human trafficking and terrorism.
5. Mobilise support for neighbours during emergency situations like humanitarian crises and conflicts.
6. Participate in activities like quelling electoral violence and playing observatory roles in electoral processes.
7. Form associations of professionals like doctors, engineers, research scientists, teachers, bankers, civil servants to share findings and ideas.
8. Encourage award of contracts to companies in neighbouring countries and amicably use resources like crude oil, oil refineries, harbours and electricity among others.
9. Adjust educational curriculum in schools and institutions to meet the needs of the regional job market.
10. Increase interaction along religious, social and cultural lines.
Artists should regularly perform in concerts. Sports competitions should be encouraged at club levels and among schools and institutions within the region.
The writer works with St. Paul’s College, Mbale