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Information gap threatens EAC integration

NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 9 – The East African Community (EAC) faces major challenges moving forward if information gaps among ordinary citizens on the integration process are not addressed, according to the civil society.

Quoting a survey by Afrobarometer conducted in East Africa in 2009, the organisations said 41 percent of Kenyan participants were unaware of the East African integration process.

Speaking during the launch of the EAC Non State Actors (NSA) Forum, on Friday, former East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) MP Rose Waruhiu said more needs to be done in engaging the ordinary citizens in the region on the value of integration.

“What’s missing is that the people don’t have a connection. They’ve been told this is your organisation, but they have not developed the link that they need or mechanisms for monitoring or informing themselves of what is going on,” she said.

Although the Treaty for Establishment of the EAC calls for the integration process to be people centred and market driven, the affairs concerning integration over the last decade seem to be dominated by the political class.

Failure to adequately involve all stakeholders in shaping the regional cooperation has been one of the factors blamed for the collapse of the first EAC in 1977.

Ms Waruhiu said apart from engaging citizens, it was important to demonstrate to them the benefits of integration efforts so far.

“If you speak to people about the community they ask, when is free movement of people coming? Unless people feel that something has opened up and they can now move, create an opportunity or find an opportunity anywhere in the region, what else is the ordinary person to look for,” she pointed out.

On the implementation front, Centre for Governance and Development (CGD) Executive Director, Kennedy Masime said the role of CSOs and the private sector in the integration process were not clearly defined in the Treaty, further slowing down efforts.

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“Article Seven of the Treaty that talks of the integration process as being people centred and market driven just alludes to participation by these groups (CSOs and private sector) which are very important. There are no mechanisms for people’s participation,” he noted.

Other challenges Mr Masime added are developing strategies of communicating CSOs participation in regional integration as well as finding inroads to influence the direction and pace of the implementation process in the region.

Ultimately, he said, it will be a matter of merging the profit oriented interests of the private sector with the socially conscious agenda of CSOs to see regional integration come to fruition.

Mr Masime said the EAC Non State Actors Forum (already established in Uganda and Tanzania) will serve as a national platform to lobby for changes in the Treaty that make it more democratic and participatory-friendly for ordinary citizens.

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