Leadership integrity is key to the success of the East African Community
When the East African Community (EAC) collapsed in 1977, it did so not just because Kenya demanded for more seats than Uganda and Tanzania in decision-making organs of EAC but because there was generally a lack of integrity, trust and selflessness among the leaders at that time. With its restoration in 2000, the EAC is making strategic leaps towards political integration. However the ultimate political integration is going to heavily depend on the extent through which the political leaders in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi seek to fulfill the core values of the regional bloc as opposed to undertaking individual self-seeking projects. While regional cooperation may be important in developing constructive relations between states, it cannot be assumed that pooling resources to provide public goods for populations and creating platforms for dialogue regarding shared interests will automatically follow.
Despite the high hopes raised by the re-ignition of the EAC concept, the region continues to suffer from deep-rooted mutual suspicions, as well as selfishness by some of its contemporary main political actors. The neatly woven suspicion and individualism amongst some of the regional political players might sooner than later pause a greater challenge to regional integration.
The Kenyan Triton Oil Scandal of 2008/9 that led to the massive fuel shortage in the entire East African region is said to have been engineered by sections of political leadership in Kenya for self vested interests. Without naming names, considerable evidence unraveled after that fuel scandal pointed to key political figures issuing orders to the Triton management to hoard fuel in order to escalate the oil prices beyond the market rates for individual gains. To the best of luck of the proprietors of this fraud, the oil prices more than doubled in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda for about a month in the later part of 2008.
Similarly, recent media reports have associated the current economic slowdown characterized by the skyrocketing inflation in the region to the artificially triggered fuel prices in Kenya whose brunt is now being intolerably felt by Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. Although initial explanations by the Ugandan, Rwandan and Burundian governments dwelt on the insurgency in North Africa and the Arab world, the focus has dramatically shifted to analyzing the costs levied on fuel between Mombasa port and Eldoret. In his swearing in speech, President Museveni last week actually revealed his intentions to start importing crude oil from Sudan as a measure of curbing the soaring prices of fuel. Although Uganda has time immemorial got its fuel from Mombasa, Museveni expressed concern on the costs charged on fuel products to Uganda by the Kenyan authorities.
Of course with the fuel fraud precedence that has been set, I would not be shocked if the economic crisis in East Africa is yet another individually engineered or exacerbated scam to amass quick wealth for just a few politicians who trade in oil at the expense of the ordinary citizens in the region who now cannot even afford one meal a day, due to the unbelievable commodity prices. Yes, this has happened before and it wouldn’t be shocking if the same game is being played by a cabal of cruel, self-minded leaders somewhere in the region.
Such politics of selfish interests will definitely serve to breakdown the foundation of trust between what are essentially supposed to be cooperating countries in the region. Interstate agreements on partnership relations of cooperation are supposed to be built on mutual trust, respect and confidence between the countries' leaders.
It is imperative to note that regional cooperation, as a middle path between complete self-reliance and complete openness, gives countries increased room to maneuver in pursuing development. Therefore, the only way to maintain regional political stability and social and economic welfare is to have an altruistic attitude in administration rather than leadership that presages selfishness.