Imagine a mini-bus filled with women in khangas, lessos and kitenges, Ugandan gomesi, Rwandan mushanana, Burundi imvutano wearing colourful headgear. They are trying to drive a bus but it is wobbly because the tyres are of different sizes, it has no steering wheel and no roadmap. Before your imagination runs wild, let us explain what this imagined vehicle is.
The East African Community (EAC) Treaty was signed in November 1999 and ratified by members in July 2000. Burundi and Rwanda acceded to the Treaty and became full members in July 2007.
Article 121 of the Treaty recognises women’s significant contribution towards socio-economic transformation and sustainable growth. By signing and ratifying the various declarations on human and people’s rights, partner states showed commitment to gender equality as a fundamental human right.
In appreciation of women’s important role in the political integration process, the EAC Secretariat hosted the third EAC Dialogue on Political Integration meeting earlier this month in Kigali, Rwanda and invited like-minded women and men from Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda. Participants included EAC current and former staff, women politicians from participating countries, academicians, constitutional office bearers and political activists.
The dialogue’s theme focused on women leaders as key drivers of the political integration agenda and discussed how women can be the ‘drivers’ of the political integration process.
It was interesting to hear speakers trying to describe the vehicle women were being asked to ‘drive’. Questions included:-
How many women know they can be drivers of the EAC political integration? Which vehicle is this they are being asked to drive and where are they driving to? How do they drive a vehicle which does not belong to them?
As drivers of political integration, women leaders cannot drive a vehicle which has no bolts to hold it together. Noteworthy is that the Treaty establishing the EAC is silent on the Gender Equality principle.
Each member State is at different levels of gender parity with Rwanda leading at 56 per cent not only in the region, but also the world. In Kenya, after women overwhelmingly voted for the Constitution 2010, the gender rule is to be implemented over time if at all based on lack of political goodwill seen from recent public appointments to state offices.
For women to drive this wobbly vehicle to achieve political integration seems like a pipe-dream. To paraphrase the Late Dr John Garang and repeated by Mama Rebecca Garang in Juba recently, “What is not said divides us.” In South Sudan, women delivered the new nation after they were promised better representation at policy-making level. Sadly, they are still begging to be recognised at leadership levels; a promise not kept by those they helped rise to power.
Following this regional experience, women leaders are being set up for another bumpy ride. To achieve political integration, the Treaty must first address the gender parity principle that will bolt all the parts of the vehicle and give the women drivers a strong vehicle.
Many participants felt Rwanda is well run as half the country’s top leadership are women. If other East Africans follow suit, they will progress quickly because clearly, women make things happen.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame while addressing the 5th Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Yokohama, Japan this month said, “In Rwanda today, the debate is not about women’s role or whether they should be empowered or not.
That is a given. For us, ensuring gender equality is not just a moral issue, it is a rights issue and it is a shared responsibility that concerns every member of our society. We have always regarded the equal participation of women in all aspects of national life, including the liberation struggle, as an indispensable contribution to the socio-economic transformation of our country.”
If all countries think and act like Rwanda, women will be able to lead regional integration for East Africa and achieve all the agreements and protocols for political integration.
Ms Mohamed is a communications and PR specialist. This article was co-authored by Ms Maimuna Mwidau, a political analyst.