East African Community, The Regional Gemeinschaft

Published on 10th April 2012

Many of the political leaders that agitated for our independence pursued the twin aims of Uhuru and Shirikisho. Independence and Federation. Decades later, despite the vicissitudes of it's turbulent history, the East African Community has, as it's expressed ultimate aim, the formation of a Political Federation. This vision requires that we build the Community.

A story is told of an artist who was painting a picture of his garden. His omission  of a tree in the graden spoiled his composition. Then, struck with remorse at his error, instead of changing the painting, he cut down the tree. There are those whose political landscape ignores East Africa as a Community. They try to cut it out of their actions, out of their discourse, out of their calculations and out of their political consciousness. They do so at their own peril.

Consider the facts. Of all African Regional Economic Communities, the East African Community is the only one that has not felt the need to qualify the word "Community" in its name.

ECOWAS is the Economic Community of West African States, SADC is the South African Development Community, COMESA is the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. Then there is the Community of Central African States. I could go on and on.

EAC simply is the East African Community. Not an Economic Community, not a Developmental Community, not a Community of States, just a Community.

Not merely a grouping of states aimed at creating a single market, although it is advanced indeed in that direction, not a constellation aimed at shared development, although it does that well. East Africa is, and aims at becoming, a Community.

There is beauty, complexity and strategy in that simplicity. The European Union, that other enduring grouping, despite its current problems, chose Beethoven's 9th Symphony as it's anthem.  Peter Watson has reminded us that Beethoven's music is a passage to human greatness, a musical achievement which stands unchallenged as a monument to the mind of man. I imagine the Europeans have chosen to construct a Union that celebrates the mind of Western renaissance man, as the Ultimate definition of what it means to be European.

The East African Community Anthem opens with a plea for God to safeguard the Community. A Community of people, sharing cultural values and aims. The Anthem is a music of the gods, anchored in the ingenuity of man. East Africa is a Community in the Gemeinschaft German sense of the word.  The East African leaders who revived the Community intended it to be a tight, cohesive social entity, with unity of purpose and will.

A deeper reading of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community tells me that they did not intend it to be simply an association of States created purely for self-interest. It affirms East Africa as a Community of One People, One Destiny. Therein lies the beauty, the simplicity, as well as the complexity of being East African.

The Community is, and needs to be at the vanguard of a new African Social Movement. It challenges us to rethink the given contours of nationhood and Community. To create one market yes, but more importantly to become a solid block on which an African renaissance can be built.

That is why I believe it is critical that East Africa urgently demolishes the artificial barriers that prevent the development of the Community. Barriers to trade and to the free movement of labor and capital defeat our Common Purpose. We cannot, and should not have a Community in which there are groups of people called refugees within East Africa.

We need to find it in ourselves to consider each other as East Africans, and show it in practice. At our border posts and airports, in our schools and workplaces, in our education, immigration and employment policies, in our trade, security and foreign policies.

We are, and we need to become a Gemeinschaft. A Community at the vanguard of the socio- economic emancipation of the African. I believe that is our historic duty and responsibility.

By Amb. Dr. Richard Sezibera,
Secretary General, East African Community.

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