By Charles Njonjo
Here is a word-for-word account from the New York Times of September 29th, about a security scare which has been in the media headlines for some time now:
â€œAn armed man who jumped the White House fence this month made it far deeper into the mansion than previously disclosed, overpowering a Secret Service agent inside the North Portico entrance and running through the ceremonial East Room before he was tackled, according to a member of Congress familiar with the details of the incident.â€
Now this happens to have taken place at a time when Kenyans too are concerned with the security of VIPs.
First there was the â€œshoe throwingâ€ incident in Migori County about two weeks ago, in which the target was reported to be the Migori Governor, Okoth Obado. But since the governor was sharing the podium with President Uhuru Kenyatta at the time, the focus was more on the presidentâ€™s security. And much praise was subsequently heaped on the President, for his immense composure at this stressful moment. And also praised were his bodyguards, who did not even draw their guns, much less fire at the crowd, having made the assessment that the Presidentâ€™s life was not in danger.
Earlier this week, we had the astonishing incident of a man walking into the group of traditional dancers, and proceeding to consecutively strike the former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, and the Kwale Governor, Salim Mvurya, with his walking stick. Once again we saw an impressively muted response, with the assailant simply being disarmed and led away.
Â â€˜Militarized police statesâ€™
It seems to me that both these two incidents in Kenya, and the White House break-in, have a lot in common. They are all symbols of an open society.
Events of this kind simply do not take place in what I would describe as â€˜militarized police statesâ€™. In such states, anything remotely approaching the events we saw at Migori or in Kwale (let alone an armed man jumping a fence and running into the presidentâ€™s official residence) would promptly draw a hail of deadly gunfire.
And we happen to have a few of those â€˜militarized police statesâ€™ in our immediate neighbourhood. I speak here of Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia.
Whereas in the advanced democracies, any form of leadership carries with it the risk that demonstrators may one day pelt you with rotten eggs or overripe tomatoes (missiles which can cause great embarrassment, but do not injure the intended target) I have no doubt that anyone who attempted to pelt the president of Rwanda; or the president of Uganda; or the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, with a rotten egg, would not live to tell the tale.
But what has this got to do with the proposed revival of the East African Community, which is what I really want to discuss here?
Well it is that the kind of union proposed by those who seek a full revival of the East African Community is only possible between countries with widely shared fundamental values.
It was an absence of such fundamentally shared values which led to a break-up of the EAC in the 1970s. And it is also this which makes it more or less impossible that we should have any meaningful revival of the EAC today.
Let me set my perspective by referring to a meeting I attended back in the 1960s, when I was the Attorney General of Kenya. The meeting had representatives of all the three countries which belonged to the EAC at the time: Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Those from the other two countries told us in very plain language that we were so far ahead of them at that point that any expansion of the East African Postal Service (the matter we had gathered to discuss) had to take such disparities into account.
And so they proposed a ratio: if there was to be an investment to create five new post offices in Kenya, then there must be 10 new post offices in Uganda; and 15 new post offices in Tanzania.
This, they said, would enable the other two countries to catch up with Kenya, which, as far as they were concerned, was the principal objective in having the EAC in the first place.
And in their opinion, this kind of logic was to be applied to all the different entities which had evolved from the progenitor East African Common Services Organisation, which had established cooperation in transport, in communications, and in education. The railways, the ports, and the East African Airlines, were all organized as regional entities within the EAC framework at the time.
A huge drain on the Kenyan treasury
With contributions from partner states being more or less equal, any reader can clearly see that the EAC was a huge drain on the Kenyan treasury, and indeed a mechanism for the Kenyan state to be forced to subsidize the other two nations.
This kind of subsidy to other nations, at a time when Kenya itself was still a very poor country with a vast socio-economic agenda to tackle, is what some of us could not stand. We felt that our primary responsibility was to our fellow-Kenyans, and that participating in a process of facilitating some form of â€œcatching upâ€ by the other two countries, was simply not in our national interest.
I wish I could say that these three countries (along with Rwanda and Burundi, which have also joined the new EAC) now have so much by way of shared values, economic policies, and political traditions, that it would be possible to contemplate the eventual economic and political union of these five countries with some equanimity. But that is not the case. Examples abound of just how far we Kenyans are from our neighbouring countries in political culture as well as in socio-economic policies.
Take for example, the notorious case of Migingo Island. If we and the Ugandans cannot agree on something so elementary as our national boundaries and come up with a clear statement on the status of these islands, then why should we even contemplate something as complex as an effective merging of our economic and political systems?
â€œHighway through the Serengetiâ€
But to my mind there is an even better example of why it is going to be virtually impossible to bring about the political and economic merging of the five nations into the single-state East African Federation dreamed of by some political leaders. This is the proposed â€œHighway through the Serengetiâ€ that Tanzania is still seeking to build, even though the East African Court of Justice stopped the construction of this road on environmental grounds.
And these are not just light and insignificant grounds in this context: environmental scientists have repeatedly pointed out that, more important than the fact that the Maasai Mara national Reserve is Kenyaâ€™s most famous game park, while the Serengeti is Tanzaniaâ€™s most iconic natural treasure, is the fact that the Mara-Serengeti plains is a single grasslands ecosystem.
The fabled annual wildebeest crossing, which involves millions of animals moving from Tanzania to Kenya and back â€“ making the famous crossing of the Mara River in the process â€“ only serves to illustrate how closely interlinked the two game parks are, from an environmental science point of view.
Nonetheless the Tanzanian authorities are determined to build a commercial road right through the middle of the Serengeti, even though alternative and equally viable routes are available for linking Northern part of that country to the Tanzanian ports on the Indian Ocean.
An end to the wildebeest migration
If the appeal that has been launched against the judgment of East African Court of Appeal is successful, and this road does get built, it will lead to the destruction of this unique ecosystem, and, in due course, an end to the Mara-Serengeti tourism circuit. And it would certainly be the end of the annual wildebeest migration.
Kenyan scientists as well as environmental activists have therefore agitated for a different route to be followed in construction of this road. But this has not in the least deterred the Tanzanian government.
Add to this the fact that the Kenyan media is far more robust and much significantly freer than that of any of the other East African nations. And that all these other countries have an open or covert policy of going to great lengths to avoid employing Kenyan professionals, even if there are no local professionals of similar caliber available in that country.
In the end you will come inevitably to the conclusion that this proposed East African Federation â€“ of which the EAC is supposedly a precursor â€“ is not something which will help Kenya, as a nation to move forward.
Rather it will hold us back, in the name of helping the other East African nations to â€œcatch upâ€.
â€œA full renegotiationâ€
And I will confess that â€“ as one who has been criticized for my role in pulling Kenya out of the old EAC â€“ it amuses me to see that the UK is now reconsidering its membership of the European Union. The EU, after all, is the very economic and political regional block that supporters of the new EAC look up to as an example.
Just this week, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, promised a referendum on EU membership in 2017, as well as â€œa full renegotiation on the UK’s roleâ€ in the 28-member organisation.
His announcement followed closely on two of his Conservative party MPs defecting to the UK Independence Party which is dedicated to ending Britainâ€™s membership of the EU.
So there is really nothing unusual in the fact that Kenya â€“ some 40 years ago â€“ decided to pull out of the EAC.
Retaining our membership in the EAC, was simply not in our national interest.
Published in The Star