NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 26 – Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Thursday asked professional organisations to help in the push for regional integration and formation of a common market for East Africa.,
Speaking when he received a delegation of East African Law Society officials at his Treasury offices, Mr Odinga said the region risked being overshadowed economically as it drags its feet on integration.
The region’s economic future, the PM said, lay in integration.
"The days of fragmented states are gone. Europe has now become one village where you can travel from Greece to Ireland using only your identity card. Here in East Africa, we still insist on passports," the PM said.
He said the entry of Rwanda and Burundi into the East Africa Community would help neutralise suspicions that exist between the three traditional East African Community states of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
"East Africa can be a village like Europe. And that unity is not going to be found in documents. It is going to be found in changed attitudes. If the attitude does not change, a Ugandan security officer at the border will still harass a Kenyan or a Kenyan will harass a visitor entering from Burundi, no matter how many papers have been signed."
The Prime Minister said the standoff between Kenya and Uganda over Migingo Island demonstrated how far the region is from integration.
"How can we say we are pursuing integration when we cannot even agree over a rocky island?" Mr Odinga said.
He asked professional organisations that it was in their interest that the integration takes off because their services defy border confines.
The EALS members, led by the organisation’s president Dr Allan Shounobi, said they were keen to see independence of the Judiciary in regional states.
Speaking on behalf of the members, Dr Shounobi said the organisation called on member states to commit themselves to eradicating corruption, saying the vice was a problem in all the regional states.
East African Community Minister Jeffa Kingi has in the meantime said that more civic education was necessary to rally citizens of the five member states behind the federation.
Mr Kingi said there was need to allay fears and expose the benefits of the community to achieve the support of the citizenry.
"We need to unpackage the benefits to the public for them to know that we are working on more benefits than we are currently enjoying," he said.
Plans for the community’s integration have received stunted support from Tanzanians who are suspicious of other countries.
Kenya last month called for the decentralization of the organs of the community which are all in Tanzania creating suspicion that the progress of achieving the community could be derailed.
Mr Kingi however said the various steps to full realisation of the community are in good progress.