Federation is not East Africa’s salvation

ISAAC Mwangi’s article in the Daily News of January 17, 2016 titled: “Want to know why EA is getting poor? Ask your thieving leaders” in fact started well by stating that the region’s poverty and underdevelopment is caused, primarily, by the prevalence of selfserving leaders, pre-occupied with looking after their own interests and those of their families and cronies rather than the welfare of their electorates at large. The fact that there are exceptions, rare as they may be, is in fact an exception which proves the rule of his statement.

For instance, the reality of President John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania having managed to accomplish in a couple of months what others failed to do in thirty years; or President Kagame of small and previously impoverished Rwanda having successfully, out of the genocide of 1994, created a society where people enjoy a better quality of life and longer life expectancy than mega-rich Nigeria, are the clearest exceptions.

However, Isaac Mwangi’s article diverged from political reality when he characterised nationalism as myopic and protectionist policies as inherently bad, implying that there cannot be integration without political union and that prosperity in the region is contingent on the creation of a Federation; all these are fallacies that have no basis in reality.

History is a clear witness to the fact that vital national interests are indeed at the core of world events, whether long past or recent, and continues to be so today throughout the world. Nothing will change this; not globalisation nor freemarket slogans.

Nothing. Anyone who he thinks nationalism or vital national interests are dead is living in a cloud-cuckoo-land and African decision-makers and policy-planners need to factor these realities into their decisions.

There have been several recent and major examples of such nationalist protectionism. According to the private emails of former American Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, declassified on 31/12/2015, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was killed because he wanted to introduce a gold-backed African Dinar which could have scuppered the status of the American dollar as the world’s reserve currency.

The then President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, also joined the anti – Gaddafi campaign as the Libyan leader had decided to start an African Central Bank which could have printed all the currency for Africa free of debt and interest; but most frightening for France was that the goldbacked African Dinar could have supplanted the French Franc in Francophone countries in the region.

In addition, the other Western nations wanted Gaddafi dead because he had planned to start an African Monetary Fund and an African Development Bank which could have rendered both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) utterly irrelevant in Africa; in addition of course they wanted control over Libya’s oil and water.

These are blatant and world-changing examples of nationalism and protectionism. So brothers and sisters, dismissing the significance of nationalism is surely not living in the real world.

The article also implied that nationalism was standing in the way of creating “a vibrant regional market” and also slowing the “regional integration process”. These statements are simplistic to say the very least.

The first East African Community of 1967-1977 was the most integrated regional bloc in the world and is up to this day acknowledged the world over as the text-book template of how regional blocs should be organised, being in fact far more integrated than the European Union is today. Yet no land-sharing, common passports or permanent residence issues came into the equation.

Moreover, the first Community did not only have common policies but also joint assets. ie. East African Airways, East African Harbours, East African Railways, East African Posts and Telecommunications etc. – joint assets not even mentioned in the current plans for the new East African Federation. Yet the 1967-77 community was not a Federation.

So we may well ask at this point whether the current proposals for an East African Federation are in fact a forward or backward-looking movement. We may also enquire of those promoting such a Federation what is in fact the end goal of this enterprise.

Is it to bring prosperity to the ordinary man and woman in the region or rather to restructure the economy so that it can be efficiently exploited by so-called foreign ‘investors’? Is this a consolidation of our hard-won liberties or a rather a blind march towards passive re-colonisation?

What East Africans need. The East African State Houses contain some of the best-educated persons in the region who should be fully aware that the immediate problem facing their peoples is not one of disunity but rather one of landlessness.

So before any notion of a Federation is contemplated, people want to see land nationalisation and rationalisation, particularly in Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, where more than 36.4 million people are either absolutely landless or existing on less than an acre each. The population of East Africa is growing at a rate of 4.7 per cent per year.

Tanzania, being the only state with surplus land, even with the best intentions, cannot possibly accommodate that levels of migration without tearing itself apart. The politicians in the region need to be real and stop trying to fool either themselves or their electorates.

The people also want their leaders to rescind the policies of allowing foreigners to take over land and return to the people all the land that has been so far appropriated.

To give away land to foreigners when such land is needed for the support of local people cannot be justified under any pretext. A President is elected to look after the best interests of his/her own people and not to be a delegate for outside interests.

When presidents embark on policies of uprooting their own people from their ancestral lands to make room for foreign nations to grow food for feeding people in their own countries, those leaders are committing betrayal of their people tantamount to treason. Both land and independence are not the personal property of any politician or political party, but are the birth-right of their people, which no leader is mandated, legally or morally, to give away.

All African Constitutions therefore need to spell out this crucial principal clearly to avoid the ongoing land-grab which is currently rampant in the continent.

Contrary to popular beliefs, or rather the beliefs of a handful of leaders with private gain agendas in the region and their overseas partners, bringing about a Federation under the existing land situation is folly; it cannot and will not serve the best interests of the overwhelming majority of the “wananchi” in the region and Tanzania will be the notable loser here.

The most likely result of an East African Federation today would be to create another failed zone of the world with civil war and unrest as in the Middle East. Why then are our leaders apparently closing their eyes to this reality is the real question?