By James Katongana
When the leaders of East Africa realised the need to revive the East African Community, the old and the young were caught with nostalgia.
The old thought of a time when they crossed borders without passports, studied from different countries without any barriers, visited friends and relatives without any hindrance.
The young greeted the proposal with excitement- Excitement for greater and wider opportunities in education, employment and wider socio-economic benefits in a free East Africa.
So far, the achievements for East Africa community have grown by leaps and bounds ranging from economic, social/cultural, political/security to institutional.
Politically, by 1999, the treaty for establishing the East Africa Community was signed and a number of achievements have been realised. These include but limited to:
Member states are now able to carry out joint military exercises, joint patrols, sharing of criminal intelligence and surveillance to combat cross-border crime.
The treaty was able to establish fora for chiefs of police, directors of CID and directors of operations and intelligence to coordinate peace and security matters in the region.
On the social scene, a number of achievements have been realised. When one travels by road, one is amazed at the queues with identity cards and travel documents.
These travel documents facilitate travel within the East African region by the East Africans. These with identity cards and travel documents perhaps without East African Community they would not visit their relatives and friends.
Perhaps the most important achievement is the adoption of the East African Anthem “Wimbo Wa Jumuiya Ya Afrika Mashiriki”. This anthem unites us.
The community should make sure that it is taught and sung in all schools from nursery to university.
The abolition of students’ visas for East Africans, standardisation of university fees, implementation of student/lecturer exchange programmes at university are vital achievements one cannot ignore in building human resource.
One other achievement is the operationalisation of the East African passport, which passport grants the holder a six – month multiple entry visa in the region.
Even those with motor vehicles, a seven-day grace period is granted for a person with a motor –vehicle crossing the national borders of East Africa partner states.
Establishment of special immigration counters for East Africans at point of entry, harmonisation of immigration forms at points of entry, and procedures for granting work permits are some of the achievements.
On the economic front, we can see the harmonisation of operations of Ministries of Finance, Central Banks, during national budget preparation and presentation.
There is also harmonisation of standard of goods produced in East Africa, establishment of East Africa Community Common Market, East Africa Community Customs Union, Capital Markets Development and cross- listing of stocks, reduction of national trade barriers. Implementation of preferential tariff discount and free movements of stocks.
Legislative Assembly, East Africa Science and Technology Commission, East Africa Kiswahili Commission, East Africa Health Research Commission, East Africa Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency and East Africa Community of Chief Justice forum.
Despite the above, however, some countries like Tanzania and Burundi seem to have Luke- warm participation. Tanzania seems to say, is side- lined because of its land ownership policy. This seems to stall fast progress of integration.
Integration needs to move faster than this. Actually we needed it 10 years ago. To claim that a country is side- lined because of its land policy is not only obscurantism but also totally misplaced.
There was the East Africa Community before and Tanzania was a member. I imagine Tanzania benefited from it.
Connecting East African community integration with the political conflict Tanzania might have with Rwanda is to miss the point.
Burundi and Tanzania need integration more than any other member of the East Africa Community. Any leader who does not want his people to join integration like this one is not only a misanthropist but also an ingrate to his contemporaries.
These two countries need to eat the humble pie and run faster to join others.
The writer is a Pan-Africanist