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Is East African Community worth the fight?

By John Semakula

Added 11th March 2017 01:16 PM

During the elections this month, the exercise became rowdy as MPs from the government nearly exchanged blows with their counterparts in the Opposition on the floor of Parliament.

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During the elections this month, the exercise became rowdy as MPs from the government nearly exchanged blows with their counterparts in the Opposition on the floor of Parliament.

East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) elections in Uganda were marred with chaos as MPs nearly exchanged blows at Parliament. Photos by Miriam Namutebi


The recent scramble for the partition of the nine slots allotted to Uganda in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), has stirred concern among ordinary Ugandans.

During the elections this month, the exercise became rowdy as MPs from the government nearly exchanged blows with their counterparts in the Opposition on the floor of Parliament.

The scuffle started when Ingrid Turinawe, a candidate from the Opposition Forum for Democratic (Change) walked to the podium to solicit for votes in Parliament.

 ngrid urinawe campaigns amidst chaos Ingrid Turinawe campaigns amidst chaos

 
But as she began to address the MPs, majority of the ruling party legislators opposed to her candidature stood up in protest and started shouting at her, paralyzing the Parliamentary proceedings.

In the end FDC, which fronted two candidates, scoped no seat while smaller parties like the Democratic Party (DP) and Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) posted a representative each.

But the chaos that ensured in the house has left ordinary Ugandans wondering whether EAC is a job basket for politicians or is intended to benefit the common person. Each newly elected MP in EALA will receive at least $14,000 (Ugsh50m) in monthly salaries beginning July.

 


At the signing of the treaty that established the community in 2000, the ordinary East African had been promised to benefit from the reunion. But so far EAC has remained majorly a “platform” for Presidents and regional Members of Parliament who receive huge salaries.

 “That’s why in Uganda the elections for the members of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) make little sense to the ordinary person,” says Gerald Segane, a local builder in Mukono town.

And while the EALA elections were being conducted, Segane continued with his usual business at a construction site in Mukono town.  He told New Vision that unlike the February 2016 general elections in Uganda which he participated in and followed tightly, he had no ‘appetite’ for EALA’s. 

“EALA MPs deliberate on issues that do not concern us like trade relations among member states,” he said. “I am local builder so they don’t concern me.”

 

Segane added that it was his first time to hear about the EALA elections.

But Segane is not alone; millions of East Africans who have lived within EAC for the last 17 years argue that they don’t feel the community all.

In Uganda, EAC is usually felt during the elections for EALA delegates. That is when candidates scramble for the nine slots in the regional Parliament. 

John Vienney Ahumuza, a lecturer at Uganda Christian University (UCU), Mukono told New Vision that he has never felt the impact of EALA and EAC.

Ahumuza said that after EAC embraced the common market, he returned to school to pursue further studies, hoping to find greener pastures in one of the member states in the near future.

 
“But since I graduated from Makerere University, none of the other EAC member states has fully opened its market to find a better job,” he said.

Ahumuza suggested that enforcing the speaking of Kiswahili in Uganda could help the ordinary Ugandan who would in future prefer to work in other countries.

Whereas Kiswahili is spoken in all the other EAC member states, Ugandans shun it. It’s argued that Ugandans shun Kiswahili because it’s associated with soldiers of the previous brutal regimes who spoke it while terrorizing the local population.

During the EALA campaigns, popularising Kiswahili in Uganda was one of the catchwords candidates eyeing one of the nine slots used to market themselves.

Mary Mugyenyi, now one of the newly elected Ugandan representative to EALA, told New Vision that her priority would be popularising Kiswahili in Uganda.

She explained that the common values in Kiswahili could make the ordinary person appreciate the community better. Currently, Ugandans speak English and their local lingua.

IMF criticizes EAC performance

In its recent report, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also criticized the performance of the EAC, observing that it has not yet given meaningful economic benefits to member states since it was formed.

 
Titled integrating markets for Goods, Labour and Capital in EAC, the IMF report said the region still imports goods such as industrial supplies, fuel and lubricants, transport equipment parts and accessories, processed foods and beverages from outside the region yet some of these goods are available in the region.  The IMF report also noted that the implementation of the customs union has not caused an increase in economic and financial integration.

Recently, for example, a cross section of Kenyan MPs tried to block sugar manufactured and exported from Uganda into their market in a bid to protect local industries.

The IMF report noted that the share of intra-EAC imports in total imports has not increased in the past 15 years and most imports continue to come from outside sub-Saharan Africa. The report found that more than 85 % of total imports into the region come from outside the EAC.

Experts weigh in

Dr. Katusimeh Meshach, a lecturer at the department of leadership at Makerere University Business School (MUB) argued that it would take the EAC member states resolve to sacrifice their sovereignty for the community to benefit the common person.

“The EAC can only be felt if we decide to elect one President for the region,” Katusimeh said. “Otherwise, the community will remain in the Capitals of Kampala, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.”

And Wandera Ogalo, a former Ugandan representative in EALA explained that the community is not felt because its summit based.

“The community has remained a summit driven by the Presidents of the member states instead of being people centered like the former EAC community that collapsed in 1967 when the late President of Tanzania Julius Nyerere and Amin could no longer sit on the same desk,” Ogalo said. 

 emocratic artys  strongman ukasa bidde campaigns Democratic Party's (DP) strongman, Mukasa Mbidde campaigns

 


He added that EAC could be felt if member states fully implement the customs union and common market, allowing the flow of goods and labour within the community.

“If someone from Uganda can easily cross the border over into Tanzania to work, then the community would mean something to the common person but it’s not yet the case,” Ogalo added. 

He advised further that for the EAC to make more sense to the common person, members states need to inject more monies into the community.

“The last time I was in EALA; European Union was providing more funds to the community than the member states which showed regional leaders were not priotising EAC,” Ogalo said.

 He noted that much of the funds which member states channel to the community are for administration including paying salaries of the MPs and not the vital projects that benefit the common man.

“The standard gauge railway project makes a difference to the common person in the region but it’s just starting 17-years since EAC was established,” he noted.

But Mukasa Mbidde, one of the representatives of Uganda in EALA asked Ugandans not to worry about the fact that they have not yet felt the EAC.

Mbidde said the first stages of formulating the EAC have mainly been affairs of the Presidents so the community would not easily filter down to the villages.

s congratulate aul usamali after winning the  elections at arliamentMPs congratulate Paul Musamali after winning the EALA elections at Parliament

 
“But with time, every Ugandan will be able to feel the community,” he said. “Cross boarder traders in the region are already enjoying the community’s benefits because borders have been opened for them and their merchandise can now reach Uganda from Mombasa in three days instead of six months.” 

Mbidde added that when EALA amends the treaty for EAC to embrace a common currency for the region in the near future, everyone will feel EAC in his wallet.

Achievements of the EAC

Despite its failure to appeal to millions of the ordinary person in the last 17 years, the EAC member states have been able to achieve a lot in common. Between July 2000 and April 2016, at least 41 bills passed by EALA have been passed into laws.

The Acts include the Inter-University Council for EAC Amendment Act, the Eats African Parliament Institute 2012 already benefiting people in the region.

The EAC is also implementing a number of other regional infrastructural projects under a code name; Northern Corridor Integration projects (NCIP) such as the oil pipeline, and the refinery.

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