Yes, party affiliations irrelevant in EALA tasks at present

13Jan 2018
The Guardian
Yes, party affiliations irrelevant in EALA tasks at present

MEMBERS of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) were settling down for business of the current session and, indeed, of the New Year, following a tumultuous opening of the House.

The whole retinue of 'snakes and ladders' in ferocious lobbying for the post of speaker, which comes up once in five years or so, was repeated to the full, this time centering on two countries rather than one.

In a previous exercise the dispute had emanated from Uganda, whose eligibility to nominate or put forward a consensus candidate was not at issue among the member states but acrimonious exchanges of loyalty engulfed the opening session.

While in the previous process of election of speaker it was internecine fighting within the Ugandan legislature in its affinities with the ruling party and the presidency specifically, this time the problem was country eligibility.

To wit, it is evident that country eligibility was likely to be a less intractable matter to resolve than individual loyalties while eligibility of her country wasn't at issue, as here the issue was disciplining not just EALA members from Uganda but from the rest of the region on how to vote.

This ritual of getting the speaker at that time included washing dirty linen on conduct of office, thrown from all sides.

These contentions are healthy in at least one aspect, that the post of speaker of EALA is not taken for granted, nor is it seen merely as an 'eating opportunity' that revolves between member states.

While the dispute was shorter and less intense this time round, at the last speaker poll event it was fratricidal, in part owing to internecine contentions in the EALA members' support base within the Ugandan legislature. It took the direct or officious intervention of President Yoweri Museveni to bring the matter to order, and some of the fall out was entering a dispute with the East African Court of Justice where some relief was obtained.

An authoritative newspaper in Dar es Salaam mid last week advised Tanzania EALA members to forget political affiliations and help push the country's industrialisation agenda in the working of the regional legislature.

The idea was that they should put aside party rivalries of those who belong to the ruling party and those who do not, in taking note of an overall national thrust of interest in EALA deliberations.

In that sense each member was supposed to push the country's development agenda but conceivably the tone can be different, not necessarily on the basis of the parties from which they are drawn but convictions, feelings as no two legislators have the same background, training.

To be sure, that is the only practicable advice at the moment, as there is no thrust towards an East African Common Market and, for that matter, galvanising the pace towards an East African Federation.

Tanzania got cold feet in these two thrusts a decade ago, or say right from the beginning as the EAC Secretariat was set in motion in 1999. Nothing has changed strategically so far, in which case party affiliations cannot be at the centre of what EALA members are doing as national development orientations are still the basis of what the regional legislature is doing.

Only when there will be a proper thrust towards these basic visions set out in the revitalization of the EAC after its painful collapse early 1977 can parties set out visions, while at present there are national tasks, not a common destiny and its political visions. This horizon is vital to keep in mind.

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