World in View: East Africa unity?

May 3, 2019

From the May-June 2019 issue of News and Letters

by Gerry Emmett

In 2016, independent South Sudan became the sixth member of the East African Community, an economic zone that is proposed as the basis of a united East Africa Federation. The other countries involved are Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

While Uganda has seen growing discontent with 30-year dictator Yoweri Museveni, none of these countries are in great shape as democracies. Extrajudicial killings by police and security forces are practiced in all. In all but Rwanda, it is illegal to be Gay.

What the zone has in common is Chinese capital investment. China dominates South Sudan’s oil industry. In Ugandan highway construction, Chinese contractors receive 70% of contracts, while locals receive only 4%. China is building a new port at Bogamayo in Tanzania, which would be able to bypass Sudan in shipping South Sudanese oil.

At the same time, in Kenya, African employees of Chinese firms have complained of racist attitudes and practices by their bosses. And strongman rulers are happy to receive military and security aid. State-capitalist neocolonialism is not concerned with human freedom. 

The East African Community does have a very beautiful anthem: “Jumuiya Yetu,” Swahili for “our community.” That community deserves better.

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