The economic integration of East Africa is destined for failure if decisions are not made at the highest level. The recent restriction on Kenya Airways flights into Tanzania was bad economics not just for East Africa, but the continent as a whole.
It went against the principles of the free market economy we want to foster, and pointed to how poor leadership can potentially undermines our nascent union.
Moreover, it came at a time when intra-Africa trade stands at barely 11 per cent, dwarfing all other regions on earth. Whereas it was a trying period, it is usually such situations that give rise to exemplary leadership that puts the interests of its people first.
We could draw invaluable lessons on leadership from Mandela’s determination to put at the forefront the interests of both the black and white citizens in a divided South Africa.
The trigger, as narrated by Paul Schoemaker, was the 1993 assassination of Chris Hani, a popular black equal rights advocate who was shot in cold blood by a right-wing white extremist when stepping out of his car.
The killer was identified by a white woman, who turned him in.
The assassination ignited widespread fury and sparked massive demonstrations in which the blacks wanted vengeance.
Recently out of prison, Mandela rose to the occasion and appealed for calm in circumstances that portended looting, violence and mayhem. He said, in part:
“Tonight, I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know and bring to justice, this assassin.
“The cold-blooded murder of Chris Hani has sent shock waves throughout the country and the world….. Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for - the freedom of all of us.”
Regrettably, few African leaders have espoused the virtue of prioritising the interests of the majority of the citizenry. The economic integration of East Africa should have been approached as a marriage – to be forever united, for better or worse.
However, in the past three months we have been subjected to a series of altercation between Kenya and Tanzania.
Rather, we should learn from the European Union (EU) where, in spite of difficulties in Southern Europe, leaders have actively resisted disbandment of the Union and opted for dialogue instead.
Greece for example, lags behind most of Western Europe in terms of productivity but EU member stuck with them in bad times. It is such tolerance and co-operation that ranked intra-EU trade of 62 percent in 2013.
Although Kenya is growing slower than its neighbours, a Brooking Institute analysis points to its positive future, which we must leverage on at such times of crisis.
The analysis argues that Kenya’s economic dominance in the region is based on a strong private sector that has evolved under relatively market-friendly policies for most of its post-independence era.
Kenya’s record of relative political stability and its stable ideological stance over the same period have enhanced its position.
In contrast, the other members of the EAC have had rather turbulent political histories as in the case of Tanzania, where “Ujamaa”, a socialist ideology, was the cornerstone of founding president Julius Nyerere’s government.
This and related factors undermined the growth of the private sector in the other EAC countries. Though these countries have undertaken substantive reforms, and are now on a positive growth trajectory, Kenya is likely to hold onto its dominant position for the near-to-medium future.
Enabling a competitive environment therefore, is of paramount importance, yet the current arbitrary policy pronouncements from Ministers undermine economies.
The top leadership of EAC must ensure prior thorough analyses of issues before making key decisions. If we are to succeed, we need to work on strategies for building trust within the community.
The impasse between Kenya and Tanzania has since been resolved, with the two presidents engaging in dialogue.
The acknowledgement that the relationship is mutually beneficial for a large number of the citizens of the two countries, and the willingness to compromise, led to an amicable conclusion of the matter. This is true leadership.
Former US president Harry S Truman once said: “Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.