Saturday, November 8, 2008

Merger of EAC, SADC and COMESA step in the right direction

The Daily News, MAKWAIA WA KUHENGA, October 23, 2008

One of the reasons most serious people read the Daily News, as someone once told me the other day, is that it is the paper where one ‘finds information and not sensation to sell’. Well, as usual, the information was there – front-paged yesterday.

‘26 nations in landmark merger’ rang the banner headline. ‘EAC, SADC, and COMESA to come under one roof’ went the qualifying sub-headline. I immediately bought the paper of yesterday’s edition.

I went on to be informed in the story that a summit of heads of state and government from 26 countries in EAC, SADC and COMESA ending in Kampala Wednesday this week have endorsed, in principal, Tanzania’s proposal to merge the three economic groupings to create a ‘huge tariff-free market in order to advance the nations’ social-economic development.

The story went on: ‘The merger of the East African Community (EAC), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) would create one regional bloc with a market of over 757 million people.

‘The proposal was floated by President Kikwete when he addressed the first summit bringing together all the three regional grouping in the environs of Kampala. He said a new bloc would be stronger and larger community, replacing weaker, separate regional communities.

‘The summit directed secretariats of the three communities in this part of the world to prepare joint proposals on how to achieve the merger. One of the areas agreed was the establishment of a free trade area in the 26 countries and jointly loo for funds to finance the infrastructure of the proposed bloc.

‘The meeting also endorsed the idea of granting greater freedom to citizens of the countries within the bloc to go about their businesses freely in the region..’

To me, this was a happier piece of news there was this week coming in the wake of rather depressing news datelined Zanzibar in the course of this week that the Zanzibar government has introduced a government white paper in the House of Representatives which, according to newspaper reports, ‘discriminates’ against mainland Tanzanians who will now not be eligible for employment in Zanzibar.

Now, according to reports, Zanzibaris will be issued with identity cards (IDs) in a move aimed affording them first place priority in winning jobs, a move interpreted by newspaper accounts as aimed at ‘ensuring no foreigners’ from Tanzania mainland get hired in the islands.

The move, according to reports, is a move by Zanzibar to reassert itself as a ‘country’ - very sovereign indeed! It is Zanzibar’s answer that it was very much a country and ‘not swallowed by Tanzania’!

Now whether such interpretations on the Zanzibar move this week hold water or not is arguable but it serves as an indicator of the weakness inherit in a Union of two states only or even three as has been harped most often than not – the promulgation of an East African Federation with a Federal Government as an apex.

Inevitably, there always arise petty differences in a smaller federal entity than in a larger grouping such as proposed by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

With a larger grouping, allowing for a common market and free movement of nationals of respective countries such parochial differences as is the case with former Tanganyika and Zanzibar today known as the United Republic of Tanzania will be minimized because here you will be talking of 26 nations coming together.

Some of us have always wondered why the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was not a member of the East African Community. What was the problem of a country sharing a common boundary with this country and indeed a common culture not to become a member of the East African Community?

At geo-political and purely economic considerations, the DRC is strategically crucial given its widest landmass unparalleled to none in East and Southern Africa. I sometimes wonder if this country has any strategic considerations at all – given the importance of DRC and its proximity as a neighbour to this country. Why has Tanzania not been enthusiastic to bring Kinshasa closer home within the EAC?

The proposal by President Kikwete in Kampala, therefore, to bring the three economic blocs together in east, central and southern Africa is certainly very well thought and deserving praise and commendation.

The merger will mean a much wider space, a much bigger and meaningful integration which will include all the major economic power houses from Kinshasa to Pretoria and from Dar es Salaam to Kampala.As the Tanzanian President has said the move to bring together 26 nations in this part of the world will be a first step in the right direction towards continental unity.

It will help pacify petty and parochial voices helpful only in whipping ‘nationalist’ hot air as we are hearing from Zanzibar because a greater economic grouping will mean more opportunities for everybody from Zanzibaris to Wabara on Tanzania mainland and indeed to all 26 nations, over half of all member states of the African Union (AU).