The landscape of Africa’s media is littered with commentary that is all about integration. Across the board, the talk is that of unity this, unity that. East Africa is not left behind, with the East African Community long fronted as the way to go.
On a political front, the motivation is suspect, with the various countries within the region eyeing each other suspiciously. On an economic level, the possibilities are endless. The reasoning is clear- and straightforward; the economies of scale. The larger the numbers within the region forming one huge trading block, the greater the bargaining power. I mean this is the same concept that is propelling other regional blocks such as the European Union, with tremendous success- and transformation- in some instances.
The upcoming 10th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference being held in Kenya and Africa for the first time is an important statement in the direction that the continent intends to take going forward. The slogan Africa is #OpenForBusiness captures the spirit of the citizenry within this hemisphere in the business world and seemingly, the leadership as well.
In any case, political unions are complicated enough already within the various countries as it were. Museveni’s Uganda for instance is facing an election that is presenting enough trouble- in the best light possible my Ugandan friends : ). Coming to the just concluded Tanzanian polls that saw Dr.Magufuli emerge the winner, there was enough acrimony though, thankfully, there was no bloodletting that characterizes many an African elections. As for Kenyatta’s Nairobi, the political situation is as murky as they come. Kagame is facing intense pressure of his own in Kigali. So, political integration in East Africa is one road I do not see the region taking in a long, long time.
Having said that, for all the talk of unity at a political level, it makes sense that African integration efforts are directed more towards economic trade blocks, and much less at the political angle. With economic integration, the entrepreneur in Rwanda providing internet solutions finds a large market in the populous Tanzania, while the Kenyan businesswoman operating a brewery expands her market to the merry-making Ugandan middle class. Win-win. And as a popular East African proverb goes- Ok, it’s actually Kenyan, but we’re talking East African unity, aren’t we?-, one finger doesn’t kill lice.