One of my favourite teachers at Ombatini Junior Secondary School, Michael Burua (RIP), never tired of reminding us in class to leave the world a better place than we found it. That was as long ago as 1960. The outgoing secretary general of the East African Community (EAC), Dr Richard Sezibera, has done precisely that for our regional organisation. Due to his efforts, EAC is in a much better condition today than it was in 2011. I congratulate and thank him for a job well done!
Appointed to the prestigious position on April 19, 2011, Dr Sezibera whose five-year term as EAC secretary general ends this month will, I believe, leave Arusha contended after a remarkable contribution to the cause of East African integration. Dr Sezibera, who is the fourth secretary general of the community, succeeded ambassador Juma Mwapachu of Tanzania.
The first secretary general of the EAC was ambassador Francis Muthaura of Kenya who was my colleague on the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly during the 1970s. He was first secretary at Kenya’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York while I was of the same rank at the Permanent Mission of Uganda to the UN. The Second Committee deals with economic and financial questions. Ambassador Muthaura was succeeded by Mr Amanya Mushega of Uganda.
Dr Sezibera is a citizen of Rwanda who trained as a medical doctor at Makerere University and graduated in 1989. After graduation, he worked at Mbuya Hospital in Kampala before transferring to Mbale Regional Referral Hospital after which he joined the Rwanda Patriotic Front in 1994 and rose to the rank of Major.
In 1995, he was elected a member of parliament and served until 1999 when he was appointed ambassador of Rwanda to the USA. He represented Rwanda in Washington DC until 2008 when he was appointed minister of health, a position he held until his current appointment as secretary general in 2011.
Challenge of deepening regional integration
Dr Sezibera has played an important role during the last five years in efforts to deepen regional integration in East Africa for the good of wananchi of the community. Unlike the original EAC of the 1960s, the current community was supposed to be “people-centred” and “people-driven” but this has not yet happened. The big men continue to call the tune and wananchi simply dance to the music of their powerful leaders.
Under Dr Sezibera, the people of East Africa have become important and key players in the formulation and implementation of the agenda of the EAC directly and through new regional institutions, such as the East African Science and Technology Commission, the East African Health and Research Commission and the East African Kiswahili Commission.
The EAC has formulated a blueprint called Vision 2050 whose objective is to transform the East African region into an upper income area in 35 years time with a per capita income of more than $10,000 (Shs33 million).
The establishment of a Single Customs Union is another legacy of Dr Sezibera under whom non-tariff barriers to trade in the region have been significantly reduced, intra-EAC trade has grown by 26 per cent from less than 10 per cent in 2006 and the free movement of people and labour within the common market is finally taking shape.
On Dr Sezibera’s watch the 17th ordinary session of the EAC Summit held on March 2 decided to admit South Sudan as the sixth member of the community. Although South Sudan did not strictly meet all criteria for admission, I believe her membership of the EAC will help the new country resolve many of its internal challenges and teething problems. The expanded EAC is now a big market of 160 million people which is still less than Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria whose population is about 180 million.
On the question of East African federation, Dr Sezibera tried his level best, but this matter requires political will on the part of “the big five” and, as of now, the requisite political will is regrettably lacking or is little, at best. A lot of effort must be made by Dr Sezibera’s successor to realise Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s dream of an East African federation.
The question of a common East African currency and monetary union remains unresolved. Until 1966, the East African Shilling was the common currency of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and was managed by the East African Currency Board. What a strong currency it was! One US dollar was 7 EA Shillings, while one UK pound was 20 EA Shillings.
The common currency did not collapse due to economic reasons, but for purely political and myopic reasons. East Africans should draw and learn the necessary lessons from that costly mistake and revive the East African Shilling without any further delay! The benefits of a common currency for East Africa far outweigh its negative consequences, if any. I am frankly not aware of any negative consequences.
In 1974, I travelled to New York on posting to the Permanent Mission of Uganda to the UN and flew from Entebbe to the “big apple” by East African Airways, which was not only profitable, but also one of the finest airlines in the world. The area manager of EAA in New York was my good friend, Mr Ben Z Dramadri. The EAC should, in my opinion, revive EAA as a regional airline for the six partner states. I wish Dr Sezibera every success in future endeavours wherever the wind of change blows him.
Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat. [email protected]