Kibaki Takes the Long View: Although the Ruling National Rainbow Coalition Party Has Only One Year to Go before the Next Elections, President Mwa Kibaki's Policies Are Aimed at the Longer Term. High on His List of Priorities Is the Proposed East African Federation with Neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda. Report by Neil Ford

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With just one year to go until President Mwai Kibaki's National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) must contest the next presidential and National Assembly elections, it might be expected that the government would opt for short term policies that would give it the best chance of success in the polls.

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Yet Kibaki's administration is also pressing ahead with the kind of policies that may have little short term gain but which should yield benefits for the country in the longer term.

Continued integration within the East African Community (EAC) should generate both short and long term dividends. While the reduction or removal of barriers to trade within the EAC should boost economic growth across the region in the long term, Kibaki can point to each of the steps on the road to integration as evidence of his political success on the international stage. The Kenyan government's role as a mediator in both the Somali and Sudanese peace talks has helped promote Kibaki as a statesman but it is with the EAC that he can be seen to be making more of a personal contribution.

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In October, Kibaki launched a process of national consultation on the issue of federation and integration within the EAC. All three member states are holding national consultation processes on the issue that will last until April, in an effort to bring the East African people on board what is a highly ambitious programme.

As with the European Union, the EAC member governments hope to turn economic harmonisation into political integration, culminating in what could be a virtual united states of East Africa.

The secretary general of the EAC, Juma Mwapachu, said the process of consultation "marked the beginning of a process to wipe out colonial and imperial legacy". Indeed, the creation of a single East African state with a population of around 100m would reverse the division of the region during the colonial period.

With the notable exception of the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, all other attempts at federation in Africa, from Senegambia to Ethiopia and Eritrea, have failed. Yet the common English and Swahili linguistic and cultural heritage of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya could provide a sound platform for integration.

Kibaki is keen to avoid being seen as forcing political integration on the Kenyan people. Launching the consultation process, he said: "It is indeed expected that the process we are launching today will be wide and comprehensive enough so that the people fully understand the benefits and challenges of a political federation."

He added that the people will be given the final say on any pooling of national sovereignty but warned that the creation of regional economic and political blocs was "imperative for our social and economic development".

The current timetable calls for the creation of a common market, with some restrictions to protect Tanzanian and Ugandan businesses from Kenyan domination, by 2008. The EAC should become the East African Federation by 2010, with a common currency introduced by the same year, and a common presidency created in 2013.

This is a far faster pace of economic and political integration than that experienced by any other similar attempt at integration anywhere in the world. There is therefore a risk that the pace of change could derail the entire process but this is unlikely to affect Kibaki's political standing in the short term.

Cable solution

The Kenyan government is also pressing ahead with the plan to develop the country's own dedicated fibre optic cable. Frustrated by delays to the East African Submarine Cable System (Eassy), Mombasa has decided to finance its own $110m cable from Mombasa to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. The Kenyan government has long hoped to promote the country as a centre for IT investment and outsourcing, using the country's technical skills and command of the English language to attract investors. …