Letter from the future to Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, with whom it all began


Shikamoo Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. The East African Community did not die permanently in 1977; it has been resurrected and is thriving. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH |   NATION MEDIA GROUP
Shikamoo Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. The East African Community did not die permanently in 1977; it has been resurrected and is thriving. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP     

Shikamoo Mwalimu. Next week, the Summit of Heads of State of the East African Community will take place in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Community is currently chaired by Uhuru Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya. Yes sir, you may share this news with Mzee Kenyatta and Mzee Milton Obote when you see them. The East African Community did not die permanently in 1977; it has been resurrected and is thriving.

I am writing to seek your wisdom and blessings. You see, when the Summit meets, they will be deliberating, among other things, on the best way to start a constitution-making process for the Federation of East Africa! Yes, the debate is back.

You remember those many years ago, in 1963, when you offered to delay Tanganyika’s Independence to give chance to East Africa to get its Independence as a federal entity?

You feared that entrenched sovereignty and the trappings of national authority would blind us to the strategic imperatives of building a united East Africa capable of harnessing all its resources for the socio-economic development of its citizens.

You were worried that narrow parochial concerns would lead to the marginalisation of our continent. You saw clearly that Independence within the borders of colonial constructs would simply reinforce the colonial enterprise, marginally tweaking the relationship between the former colonies and the metropole, while leaving the colonial enterprise intact. Well sir, you were right.

Can you imagine that by 2005, the entire GDP of East Africa was only $40 billion — the wealth of one modern high net worth individual?

That our fragmented economies remained stuck in the mud for decades, trying to produce more cotton, coffee, and raw minerals for the consumption of the Western world?

The harder we worked, the poorer we became, until we were told that the only solution was to reduce our investments in health, education, infrastructure and energy.

We did need macroeconomic discipline, Mwalimu, but we balanced our books on the backs of the poor. We were too weak to resist, our valiant struggle against apartheid notwithstanding. We all agreed to take the medicine.

Our current leaders have decided to reverse the trend. They have decided to go back to the future. And they are succeeding. East Africa is now a Customs Union, and we are slowly turning it into a Single Customs Territory.

Beyond the free movement of goods, the region is now slowly but surely turning into a Common Market, and plans are underway to build a Monetary Union. Shared investments in infrastructure are gaining momentum. Remember when you decided to invest in the Tazara railway against all opposition?

You may be saddened to hear that line now carries less than 10 per cent of what it did in its heyday. I am glad to report however that for the first time in over 100 years, Kenya and Uganda are beginning to lay a new, modern railway line. Rwanda and Burundi are determined to follow suit. Investments in energy generation are on the rise. East Africa is determined not be a dark region, both figuratively and literally.

Do you know, Mwalimu, that since East Africa decided to deepen and widen its integration, its GDP is now over $100 billion and growing? Over 700,000 students are enrolled in 344 institutions of higher education including 161 universities.

This is a sharp rise from the 160,000 enrolled in the 1990s. They pay local fees across the region, and 2015 is the target year for turning East Africa into a Common Higher Education Area.