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EDITORIAL: Follow the rules to resolve EAC jobs deadlock

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By The EastAfrican

The recent high-profile altercation between Uganda and East African Community Secretary General Peter Muthuki over the recruitment of a Clerk to the East African Legislative Assembly, once again drew public attention to the subterranean fissures that have been quietly tearing away at the veneer of a regional bloc in harmony.

The recruitment of the clerk and interviews for other 60 positions at the Secretariat and EAC organs were in disarray this week, following a protest from Uganda. In a mail exchange between Uganda’s Minister for East African Cooperation Rebecca Kadaga, which somehow got leaked and went viral in the public domain, Uganda protested the passing over of its candidate for the clerk’s post. Ms Kadaga points to the quota system which was mooted to ensure equity in job distribution among partner states.

As a result, the EAC is split down the middle with Burundi, South Sudan and Uganda on one side, against Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. Given the historical ties between Uganda and Tanzania, it is somewhat surprising that such a protest would come from Kampala. That it did reminded one of the importance of bread-and-butter issues that are bound to crop up in any collective. The standoff also brought back echoes of the divisive events of 1977 that saw the predecessor of the current cooperative framework, break up, leaving a mess that continues to haunt relations to date.

One can argue that given how far the new cooperation has come, common sense will prevail and the players will appreciate the big picture and attach more value to the thriving intra-regional trade sufficiently enough not allow the current hiccups to morph into a much bigger crisis.

The experience of the aviation industry might offer some useful insights. In practice, the minimum equipment list allows airlines to deploy an aircraft into service, with certain parts or systems inoperative. That could be something as simple as a failure of the Global Positioning System receiver which, with additional workload on the crew, can be backed up by the good old magnetic compass. While it might be technically feasible, the cumulative effect of an operator deferring maintenance of different systems can build up to a major disaster.

In the context of Uganda’s protest about unbalanced recruitment at the EAC, left unchallenged, such practices can create inbuilt biases, that eventually influence or distort processes, so much so that the grand vision of economic cooperation is subverted by a self-serving bureaucracy.

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The crisis in Arusha is not the result of an absence of rules but rather a culture of impunity emanating from the political culture of the constituent parts. And it is easy for the issues to get blurred in the mist of the recent trade tiffs between partner states.

Uganda may be no angel but the supranational ambitions of the EAC will only be feasible if the Secretariat raises the bar and operates on higher moral ground. Playing by the rules is what will save the EAC from a repeat of history.



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