East Africa Why Political Federation Has Been Difficult to Achieve: Tom Oniro Explains Why East African Political Federation Has Been Such a Difficult Thing to Realise-The History of Betrayals in the Region Is Too Much for the "Partner States" to Trust One Another

Article excerpt

THE CLAMOUR FOR A FEDERAL East Africa is yet to tackle the issue of many discords in the region where historical injustices have meant that some communities feel superior to others and ethnocentrism and mistrust are rife. Moreover, when the old East African Community (EAC) collapsed in 1977, Ugandans and Tanzanians were bewildered that their Kenyan brothers and sisters actually celebrated the demise of the regional bloc.

Whereas the socialist-leaning presidents of Uganda and Tanzania, Milton Obote and Julius Nyerere, were busy preaching brotherhood and oneness, the capitalist-leaning President Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya was snatching any and every opportunity to enrich his people at the expense of the collective community; even including using resources pooled from the regional kitty.

That is why most economically viable assets of the dead EAC are housed in Nairobi today. For example, at the time of the collapse, East African Airways had a fleet of 14 planes flying the regional flag. Kenya took three, Tanzania seven, and Uganda four. Kenya then expanded from three planes to seven in four years!

It later came out that Kenyatta had deceived Nyerere into switching some land on their common border. One such piece of land, it is said, is where the current Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa sits. That swathe of land is said to have belonged to Tanzania while the foot of Africa's highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, was Kenyan territory.

But calculating that a harbour could generate a fortune in the future, as compared to the foot of a mountain with occasional tourists here and there, Kenyatta convinced Nyerere to swap the two pieces of land.

Mombasa, the seat of the former East African Railways and Harbours (then the property of the EAC), is now the economic hub of East and Central Africa, while the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro has remained the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro with occasional tourists here and there.

Mombasa is now the exit and entry point for all maritime goods and services that dictate life in the land-locked hinterlands of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DR-Congo and Southern Sudan. Any breakdown in operations here practically means the dependent economies are brought to their knees.

Politically, it is not lost on supporters of the late Ugandan president, Milton Obote, that his overthrow by his army commander Idi Amin was conducted with the full knowledge of Kenyatta; at a time when the EAC was still in place.


Amin's coup d'etat on 25 Januaty 1971 is said to have been co-ordinated from a place called Nanyuki in central Kenya by a senior Israeli intelligence officer together with Colonel Bolka Bat-Lev, who was at the time the head of the Israeli military mission to Uganda. Beverly Gayer Barnand was in charge of the whole operations on behalf of the British government.

Many Ugandans consider this as a betrayal. To make matters worse, Kenyatta denied Obote asylum in Kenya. When Obote was toppled again in 1985, Kenyatta's successor, Daniel arap Moi, again denied him asylum in Kenya. Obote ended up in Zambia where his bosom friend, Kenneth Kaunda, made him welcome.

Obote's call for Western countries, especially Britain, to stop supplying arms to South Africa angered the British whose multinational corporations were reaping billions of dollars from such deals. In fact, at the time of the Amin coup, Obote was in Singapore attending a Commonwealth conference where he was slated to give a landmark speech to include condemnation of the continued selling of arms to South Africa.


The then British prime minister, Edward Heath, is on record as having assured delegates that some leaders in attendance would not return to their countries. He implicitly meant Obote.

Obote also angered the Israelis, who were camped in northern Uganda training and arming the Anyanya rebels against the Sudanese president, Gaafar el-Nimeiri. …


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