Role of literature in EAC mirage

Posted on October 28, 2016 12:47 am

For almost twenty years, East African Community (EAC) has been a big illusion fed to all East Africans. In school kids are taught about EAC and told that they are “EAC people”,without ever understanding what that meant or using the term outside of their classrooms.There have been plenty which has been published on this site regarding the positives of East Africa Community but just like bread, there is always two sides one buttered and the other unbuttered.East Africans use many other personal factors as a source of their identity including country, religion, ethnicity but never the membership of EAC. I have met people who can say that I am Ugandan, Catholic,Nairobian, but it’s impossible for them to say that they are EAC person even if they are clearly a East African person.EAC nations range from Kenya, a dynamic city state with the GDP per capita of a developing nation, to small, backward dictatorships such as Burundi to democracies like Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. Culturally, they range from christian majority states such as Kenya, the nation with the region’s largest christian population.EAC has different languages, different religions, different cultures, different governmental and social systems, and different levels of economic development.There is no single reason for the people of East Africa, to stick together as one community.EAC only common denominator is the shared experience of economic colonialism. It is only through geographic proximity that a concept of community seems plausible.And today, EAC call itself a community. It calls itself a community just because EAC elites have decided that they should. It’s the same with what happened in post colonial era when EAC elites agreed to establish an organisation named East African Community.The people, did not have a choice. They were never asked whether they wanted to join such an organisation, or even more, to be part of one community.What followed was the collapse of the original East African Community in 1977.While EAC was formed for security and political reasons to avoid conflict or war among countries in the region while defending the Western interests and containing the spread of communism at the height of the Cold War that pitted USSR and the West, now EAC is one community, first of all, for economic purposes. But even so, region can’t call itself an economic community just yet. Intra-EAC trade makes up only 30 percent of the bloc’s total trade, while intra African trade is much bigger, standing at 42 percent. Thus, it is no surprise that some EAC states like Kenya joined COMESA, a move that further divided EAC, especially politically.

In its nearly 20 years of existence, EAC’s biggest achievement is avoiding war. But while it was formed for political and security reasons, it is in these aspects that EAC nations are the most divided, and it seems almost impossible to remedy this situation.Some countries are traditionally West allies while others are like confused kindergarten kids by their attempts to stay neutral, generally just try to be pragmatic.Others are beholden to China and will not approve of any action on an issue important to dragon republic. With this division and the “EAC Way” of consensus decision-making and non-interference, it’s impossible to make a united move on issues such as the Economic Partnership Agreement, for instance. With EAC economic integration and political commonalities increasingly becoming a delusion, the only way for nations in the region to create a genuine community is to focus on the stepdaughter on socio cultural sector. While I can always say that the EAC is a work in progress, it will not progress until it seriously embark on exchanging values, lifestyles and customs of people in EAC so that they come to know and understand each other. This sense of belonging will only come from a bottom up approach.How can EAC become a community if they don’t know each other and how can a country be a member of a community to which it doesn’t don’t feel a sense of belonging? EAC is close yet so far.East Africans know much about people playing football in English Premier League and basketball in the US, but they know nothing about people in other EAC countries.They know much about Europe because of their football and music.They feel close to the US because of Hollywood and the general entertainment sector. And some East Africans even consider Nigeria as their close neighbor more than their actual neighbors in EAC thanks to the Nigerian pop invasion.It is only culture that can nurture and build a sense of being part of something bigger, and ultimately a sense of belonging and an EAC identity. And for me, as a blogger with deep rooted interests in EAC, my believe is that literature and books in general are cultural products that can have a significant influence on people.History tells us that books can create revolution, war, conflict, peace, consciousness, nationalism awareness, and encourage people to fight for freedom and equality. I believe the power of books and literary works can shape a new awareness and perspectives among people in East Africa. EAC really need to begin making efforts to ensure that books and literary works from EAC writers are read by people in EAC. The region has to believe that only by cultural exchange, especially through books, can East Africans understand each other and become a real community.If that doesn’t happen, the region plans will remain a mirage.

Contador Harrison