The 20th Ordinary Summit of the East African Community Heads of State finally happened in Arusha, Tanzania. With what seemed to have been false starts at the end of last year, seeing the summit deferred twice, this time it was serious business.
After over eight hours of a closed-door discussion at the sprawling Arusha International Conference Centre, the heads of state emerged to issue a 22-point communique.
The volume of discussion and resolutions at the end of the summit reflect just how serious this meeting and the community is, even when like any other organisation, it might face occasional challenges.
Several pessimistic forces have tried to announce an early death of the community whenever member states have disagreed but the community keeps moving, gathering steam and getting stronger. Even when states might disagree on mode, no one is unclear on destiny.
This year marks two decades since the EAC was revived by Presidents Yoweri Museveni, Daniel Toroitich arap Moi and Benjamin Mkapa. In the 20 years, the community has grown to embrace Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan. Somalia is knocking on the door, seeking entry.
With a collective population of over 150 million people, and a combined average GDP growth rate of 6 per cent (the fastest growing among African regional clusters according to the African Development Bank in their ‘East Africa Economic Outlook Report 2018’), the EAC is no doubt a growing force.
What is critical is how the leadership galvanises these opportunities for the people’s benefit even when there might be occasional hiccups.
This is why resolution Number Six of the communique read on Friday in Arusha by Secretary General Liberat Mfumekeko must be taken seriously.
Verbatim, it reads: “The Summit received a report that all partner states had nominated experts to work on the constitution of the political confederation. The experts will provide a preliminary report in seven months. The summit decided that President Yoweri Museveni shall provide political guidance to the exercise.”
This is a very significant assignment that the community has given to President Museveni and by extension Uganda. A political confederation is the transitional model adopted by heads of state in 2017 towards a political federation, which is the ultimate goal of EAC integration.
It will be premised on three pillars; common foreign and security policies, good governance and effective implementation of prior stages of regional integration. The stages are Customs Union, Common Market and Monetary Union.
There could not have been a better person than President Museveni to superintend over this exercise. Not only was he the most experienced leader in that room in Arusha but perhaps the most passionate on the question of East African integration.
I do not remember any key speech President Museveni has made in his time as Uganda’s leader where he has not extolled the virtues of not just a united East but entire Africa.
In making this case, the President always presents two major issues: economic prosperity and political/strategic security.
On the economic front, the President has explained how the region would get better trade deals and hold sway over investors if the region made its case using its collective population of over 150 million people.
For example speaking at the 19th Ordinary Summit for EAC Heads of State in Kampala in February last year, President Museveni, said: “Numbers matter a lot when it comes to the creation of prosperity. East Africa has the numbers. Africa has the numbers. The population of Africa will be 2.5b by 2050. The population of Uganda will be 102 million by 2050. Some people are worried about this but I am not. I think it is very good, the more the better.”
For strategic security, the President again has been clear on how and why Africa, for example, got colonised and why slavery thrived. He has always pointed out that it boiled down to a lack of unity and questionable strategic thinking by feudal leaders of that time.
In some places like America, President Museveni has shown how native tribes got wiped out by the occupying colonial forces, finishing off entire clusters of humanity.
Threats to African existence might have mutated but they still exist, and unless we unite like President Museveni says, the risk of extinction might not be far-fetched.
This ideological clarity and passion is what makes President Museveni the best choice for this critical task of overseeing the journey to a political federation. The icing on the cake is his appreciation of the cultural and social strands that run through the peoples of East Africa.
Uganda must be proud that they have a leader the region respects and believes in. Ours is to ensure he gets all support so that he does not only succeed in this new assignment but also that ultimately we have a truly united East Africa.
Wanyama is the Senior Press Secretary to His Excellency the President