With mandarins at the wheel, EAC loses speed

A few days ago, there were many people in Kampala who were very unhappy with the Kenyan authorities.

Their anger followed a decision by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) requiring Ugandan and other importers using Mombasa port to pay a crippling cash bond equivalent to the total value of the tax that would have been charged were the Ugandan-bound goods sold in Kenya.

Before that, importers of goods through Mombasa had only been required to execute a non-cash insurance bond.

The Daily Monitor reported in Kampala that within the first week of the directive, more than 600 containers, several containing critical raw materials for Ugandan industries, and about 2,000 vehicles, had piled up at Mombasa.

Early last week, the KRA lifted the controversial tax policy. Just as well, because tempers were beginning to fray badly.

The shocking thing about that tax was that it originated from Kenya.

First, Kenya had just broken ice with Tanzania over a decision by Dar es Salaam to slap a fee of several hundred US dollars on Kenyan vehicles entering Tanzania.

When Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete visited Kenya last week, reports said the matter came up in discussions between him and President Mwai Kibaki, and he had promised to deal with it.

Second, as far as regional co-operation policies go, Kenya and Rwanda are the most enlightened in the East African Community. Kenya was the second after Rwanda to end stringent work permit requirements for all East Africans.

That KRA would do what it did, points to stagnation, and even regression, in the march toward formal EAC integration.

The enthusiasm among the governments for regional co-operation is waning, although the private engagement of EAC citizens is growing.

Opposition

The East African project has become more bureaucratised, with lazy or lukewarm governments farming most integration work out to the good mandarins at Arusha HQ.

Why is this happening? The turning point seems to have been July 2010, with the two Al Shabaab terrorist attacks in Kampala on World Cup Final night that killed nearly 90.

Then, last October, Kenya’s armed forces joined Uganda and Burundi in the Somalia campaign. Somalia and co-operation to deal with Shabaab-masterminded terrorism became more important than finessing economic integration.

Second, Uganda’s ruling party, the National Resistance Movement, plunged into what is turning out to be a messy fight to succeed President Yoweri Museveni; and Kenya also went into a long and divisive campaign for 2013, when Kibaki steps down.

In Tanzania, the ruling CCM is besieged by an ebullient opposition.

So the Big Men have taken leave from the East Africa project, until 2014, I suspect. The Kenya election will be done and any fallout will have been cleaned up. Kikwete will be a year away from stepping down and may want to leave a footprint on the EAC.

And Museveni will be catching his breath before either beginning his campaign for 2016, or pushing to install a pliant successor.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: cobbo@ke.nationmedia.com. Twitter: @cobbo3

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