It is time to rebrand the East African region

President Uhuru Kenyatta (second left) joins other Heads of State from the East African Community for the 17th Ordinary EAC Summit Arusha Tanzania on March 2, 2016

During a television interview a few years ago, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame was asked why he was considered a tough leader. His answer was typical Kagame; spot-on and unhesitating. “I see the country as Rwanda Inc and every Rwandese as a shareholder and thus entitled to annual dividends.”

In other words, if Rwanda were a company, it would have to pay dividends to its shareholders. President Kagame’s answer is a good analogy that the CEOs of the other East African Community member states need to heed, especially as the bloc welcomes South Sudan, as the its latest member.

Mr Kagame’s answer also raises questions: what should EAC as a bloc be known for and what should the new EAC secretary general, Dr Libérat Mfumukeko’s job description include? Should we maintain “the war-ravaged and corrupt region” tag or would we rather see ourselves as the urbane, progressive, and suave bloc?

While Salva Kiir’s South Sudan suffered from war, Kagame’s Rwanda has come to be known for its sleek streets, efficiency, and ease of doing business as well as a once traditional practice now turned into a national community mobilisation pursuit and mandatory duty — Umuganda (coming together to achieve a purpose).

 

You would be hard-pressed to say what the other countries are known for. Kenya’s bubble as the “island of peace” was, of course, burst in the 2008 post-election violence and although we are still up there, partly courtesy of our athletics brand, that also seems to be coming under threat with increasing cases of doping.

But you would be wrong to write Kenya off. Its beaches are still legendary and it still has perhaps some of the most resilient and enterprising individuals in this part of the world.

Kenya’s famous nyama choma has become a regional trademark and when you find yourself away from home, you still can indulge your appetite at Car-Wash in Kigali, Kalahari Lodge in Lusaka, in downtown Gaborone, or even the Portuguese-speaking Maputo. Kenya can still be proud of its sons and daughters.

HAND OVER THE BATON

How about the Pearl of Africa? Does it still lay claim to that deified status? A quote that recently came back to haunt President Yoweri Museveni went something like this: “…the problem with Africa is leaders who want to overstay in power…’’ attributed to him when he took power in 1986.

Three decades later, many of his countrymen feel that it is time to hand over the baton and many from across the region and international community have felt that Africa is doing a poor job of grooming successors.

Tanzania has defied that label, with its leaders sticking to the mandatory two five-year terms. That showed when former president Benjamin Mkapa was recently appointed to lead reconciliation efforts in Burundi. It is to be hoped that President Pierre Nkurunziza will see the big picture — that the country is bigger than any individual’s thirst for power.

President John Magufuli, the new chairman of the bloc, brought his no-nonsense character to the region, asking the Secretariat to embrace frugality. His colleagues have yet to show a sustained and determined effort against corruption. And Dr Magufuli has said no to stealing of public resources.

The EAC has a lot going for it. A hardworking populace made up of tech-savvy youth, recently discovered oil wells (though falling global prices seem to have dampened the excitement), not to mention international goodwill.

But all these have to be harnessed. With the single tourism visa and the EAC identity card and e-passport launched, the region should be rallying around the things that make the region shine. Let us borrow from Rwanda’s “shareholders” philosophy and have a regional Umuganda.

Mr Kiraka is a consultant for Comesa and the executive director of RiimNet-Africa. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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