Monday, January 01, 2001

EAC & Kenyans in the Diaspora

Republished on The Benin Epilogue with Permission of Kenyan Empowerment News

What Can the East African Community Do for Kenyans in the Diaspora?

Based upon the title of this article I can imagine that you might be asking yourself “what does this have to do with me?” Although I was born in Kenya, I live in America and maybe I might even stay here. True enough, I say… and if you have asked yourself this question-I agree the answer is not so obvious; but nevertheless it appears to be just beneath our noses. Before we start looking, first let us provide some background on how we arrived at today’s juncture.

For those of you who may not be very familiar with the EAC, it is a regional economic, monetary, and political union of states. It is similar to the European Union in that achieving a single currency, passport, language, decreased tariffs, and judicial arena for the member nations are the main tools for brining about enhanced economic development throughout the region.

Now initially, the title of this article was “what can the EAC do for me” but that just didn’t come across in a very relevant way-hence, the title that you see above. So, I guess one could say that “it’s all about the marketing”. Well, except maybe not so much in this case. The whole concept of an East African trade block is probably one of the most relevant economic topics to come out of the region for a long time, in that it has the power to affect the whole expanse of East Africa. But unfortunately, this East African Community (EAC) initiative has been one of those things where no matter how much marketing has been done there are have still been far too many misconceptions about it’s possible impact upon it’s neighbor states. This is something that I began to notice while reading various news publications a year or so back, but even though I was noticing this it seemed at the time like mere coincidence. But recently when I began noticing that this trend is also present even amongst some of Kenya and Tanzania’s more prominent bloggers (I won’t say who, but just do a search on Google for EAC Kenya blogs), which tend to be strong centers for scholarly thought and discussion, that’s when I began to sense that this was more than just a coincidence. Just to be sure that I was not exaggerating and that many folks in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda really did seem afraid of the impact that the EAC’s final ratification might have upon their respective countries I actually surfed the web once more prior to penning this article-only to have my new suspicions reinforced once more. That being said, the East African Community is still as relevant to East Africa as it was when it first began. The only problem is that although the concept of the East African Community has been thoroughly marketed prior to it’s reconstruction, it seems like not enough has been done to actually educate East Africa’s population about the vast benefits that it could bring to the region’s 90 million inhabitants.

If one were to trace the cooperation of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania with one another back to the early 1900’s, let’s just say 1927 to be exact, then one might be able to find the origins of the East African Community union that we find today. In fact, from 1927 until 1977 there was a great deal of tariffs-related cooperation between the three founding nations of the EAC. But after 50 years of collaboration this union hit a major obstacle or snag-disagreements caused by Idi Amin in Uganda, socialism in Tanzania, and a perceived extreme form of capitalism in Kenya. These disputes marked the end of an era. It would be almost 20 more years before the three nations would re-address the issue. The year was 1993, this is when the presidents of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania got together to bring about the formation of a committee and a treaty for exploring the re-establishment of the East African Community. It would take six more years before these efforts actually materialized in the form of a restored East African Community. Unlike the younger versions of themselves, each of the founding member states has enjoyed relative peace and stability since the initial collapse of the organization. However, for some reason it looks like the same fears that led to the regional body’s demise back then, are threatening to undermine the revised EAC before it even gets off of the ground. The main fear that I have seen repeated by Kenya’s neighbors is that Kenya poses an unfair challenge to Uganda and Tanzania, in terms of trade, with Kenya exporting far more to her neighbors than she imports from them. On the other hand, if Kenya’s bloggers are any indication, then the most common fear coming from Kenya is that the market will cause Kenya to lose its economic competitiveness in the region, as well as lose her political and judicial autonomy.

Although both notions may have some isolated elements of truth, what they both seem to be missing is the bigger picture. All three nations have already benefited tremendously, in terms of trade, from this relationship. And the organizations continued existence would only mean a mushrooming of the benefits that we have already seen. Additionally, the EAC will see the arrivals of Burundi and Rwanda as new members into the economic union. After those two new entrants, the next arrival could come from southern Sudan. Without over elaborating, what this does is creates much larger buyers markets for Kenyan businesses, as well as other businesses operating from within any of the other nations. Instead of a Kenyan company just marketing its products to the local community that it does business in now the business can put “feelers” out in neighboring Uganda and Tanzania locating even more buyers. This critical mass of demand, in turn, allows the businesses catering to these markets the ability to exploit economies of scale. These economies arise because the increased profits flowing into the companies would allow these companies to buy supplies in much larger quantities, thus lowering the price per unit. For the everyday average Kenyan this increase in demand could mean more jobs, more business, and ultimately more money flowing into the Kenya economy.

Although at the present time Kenyans are not formally giving their feedback in the form of votes, they are being asked to give a more informal type of feedback via a questionnaire that is currently being circulated in Kenya. This questionnaire will be circulated and tallied until April 2007. The formal vote via referendum will take place in 2009. That’s where you come in at. In a sense your status as Kenyan in the Diaspora means that you are an extension of Kenyan popular thought and opinion. Additionally, in the same manner you could also view yourself as an appendage to Kenyans living in Kenya, whereby the things that affect your relatives and friends in Kenya will most likely indirectly affect you. As such, your opinions matter more than ever to Kenya. Furthermore, you never know-the next time you fly into Kenya, you could be doing so with an East African Community passport meaning more opportunities for you to explore your neighbors. Or maybe this new union could bring about the possibility for direct flights into the region, whereby you could save your hard earned dollars for spending in Kenya, rather than on airfare into Europe. What it boils down to is that with the EAC the possibilities are just endless. So, if you are able to, please take some time on your own to learn more about the EAC. Then, the next time you are on the phone with a friend or relative in Kenya please be sure to remind them to support the formation of the EAC in the surveys and in the upcoming referendum. If they are not sure how or why this would be beneficial, you would be in a great position to inform them. Also, if it is possible for you do so, please don’t forget to set your calendar so that you may participate in the upcoming 2009 referendum. By doing so, you will be doing the whole East African region a great service.

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1 Comment:

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