Earlier last week, the Republic of South Sudan, the world's newest state, was admitted into the East African Community. The Community brings together Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, with, South Sudan included, a combined total of about 160 million people.
A couple of people I know from the new entrant to the Community were not exactly enthused, not like they were in 2011 when the country gained independence. At the time, the mainly Christian South became free, as it were, from the mainly Muslim North. But the divisions between North and South were less as religious as they were political and economic.
The Community, broadly, aims to transform and uplift its people. The countries here, save for Kenya, which is the 6th largest economy on the continent, are largely agrarian and poor. Needless to say, the politicians here, like many of their counterparts elsewhere on the continent, are some of the richest in the world.
But why were these friends of mine, well educated, not excited by this historic event? A little bit of perspective here may help. From the look of things, the enthusiasm in South Sudan about their independence appears to have come to nothing. Since then, the people there, who have endured their fair share of suffering and misery in all its forms when still part of Sudan, have come face to face with bitter reality. The reality that a change in name is sometimes overrated.
Ever since independence, the people of South Sudan have continued to swim in poverty. The numbers of people dying has not gone down; it has, in fact, increased with a little twinge: the deaths have been more rampant and brutal. And none of this, or very little of it has been as a result of the dreaded North. The situation is clear testament to self brutality.
Now the country comes to the Community that is part of the larger Great Lakes region of Africa. This region stands head and shoulders above any other on the troubled continent in terms of coups, human rights violations, refugee figures, guerilla fighters and rebel groups. What does this Community have for their latest Partner State? It is not all doom and gloom. With the exception of Burundi, there has been stability in all the countries in this Community.
In terms of democracy, it would be too generous to say the Community is a manual of the world's best practices. Will the Community offer any meaningful lessons to the new entrant? The jury is out. The Community is at the level of a Common Market, meaning there is, free movement of persons and goods. On paper at least. Some significant changes are immediately in place, however. There are no visa fees for citizens of these countries, which are as high as 100 USD. These small changes are important.
Three of the six countries in the Community all have oil deposits. Larger questions remain regarding what more the Community can give to the latest Partner State and what South Sudan itself can bring to the table. The uncertainty is palpable. Perhaps that is why my friends were not exactly over the moon.
Next week I will be in the historically important city of Arusha, where all the activities about the Community take place. I wont be there to talk politics, but to look at the city.
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