PUBLISHED ON November 17th, 2014

CoW is dozing, butcher’s sharpening his knives

From mid-2013 to early 2014, what the East African media called the Coalition of the Willing (a phrase that upsets EAC Secretary General Richard Sezibera very much) had the region all excited.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and his counterparts Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, seemed to have become wary of the East African Community becoming another African talking shop, and broke out.

There was a flurry of activity: The standard gauge railway to run all the way to Kigali was launched, so was the Single Tourist Visa (a first in Africa), the opening of a new berth at Mombasa port and, to the credit of President Kenyatta, a reform that got rid of most the red tape that delays transit of goods to Uganda and Rwanda from the Coast.

For a while it looked as though the Coalition of the Willing (CoW) threatened the EAC, with Tanzania and Burundi feeling isolated.

Thankfully, it seems a lot of the ill feelings have now been soothed, and Tanzania threw up a pleasant surprise when a survey by the Society for International Development and Twaweza found that a whopping 85 per cent of the country approved of greater regional integration.

Tanzanians, my friends never tire of telling me, are slow burners — slow off the blocks, yes, but still in the marathon race when fast-paced Kenyans and Ugandans have long fallen by the wayside.

However it seems that though CoW took the cow to the water, it could not get it to drink. Just as their actions injected life into the EAC project last year, the three countries need to do something dramatic to keep up the momentum. Otherwise it seems they are falling into the old stupor, or else the reality of getting their ambitions off the ground is beginning to wear them down.

In Kenya, and now it seems Uganda, the railway project has been plagued by fighting over the contract and legal battles.

The Single Tourist Visa looked to be the easy win, but while we have tourism data coming out of Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda, there is no assessment offered as to how the visa initiative contributed to it.

Kenyatta and Museveni, especially seem to have gone soft and lost the single-mindedness necessary to put lunch on the East African table. They have let their otherwise admirable efforts to end the factional war in South Sudan interfere with the EAC project with their insistence on dragging Juba along.

South Sudan has not yet joined the EAC. However, even if it had, given its current near-broken state and the dysfunctional rule of an apparently ailing Salva Kiir, it doesn’t add value.

Both the bigger EAC integration, and the smaller CoW insurgency within it, need a nice report card to keep believers motivated.

Right now, Museveni is distracted by his bid for an unprecedented seventh term in 2016, being busy dumping potential rivals out of the race. Kenyatta is coming to the end of his second year in office and cynicism is mounting about his ability to deliver.

The leaders have a few critical weeks left to strike while the iron is hot, or else this CoW too will end up at the butcher’s.

Source: The East African

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