Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

President Paul Kagame is no believer in ‘resource curse’ as the source of Africa’s problems. Neither am I. But what should ordinary citizens do when life is made harder day in day out for people in a region awash in resources but with no apparent improvement of their lives in sight?

Authorities in Tanzania have just approved an over 42 per cent hike in the price of electricity for a country already weighed down by nearly 20 per cent inflation, which in real terms is like a doubling of the cost of living. On average, East Africans are very peaceful people but the rising cost of living is a real dilemma, which is not for the people to solve but our governments to wrestle with.

It was interesting to note that the East African Community (EAC) sectoral councils on Cooperation in Defence, Inter-state Security and Foreign Policy Coordination met in Arusha last week to consider the final draft of the EAC Protocol on Peace and Security, which Deputy Secretary General (Political Federation), Ms Beatrice Kiraso said was crucial for the envisaged political federation.

No one can deny that but on a day to day basis, it all amounts to how comfortable life is for ordinary East Africans to thinking ‘federo’ especially when the inspiring cliché is the juicy but still ambiguous “people-centred integration.”

“Securing and stabilising our region is high on the EAC agenda as all other integration efforts will not bear fruits without peace and stability,” Hon. Kiraso was quoted by the media as saying. Granted, that is very important but at the end of that line is how contented the people are that would make all the difference.

East Africa is the source of the Nile and Egypt upstream produces from the river’s waters 10,000 Megawatts of electricity. The North African country currently needs only 7,000 megawatts, making 3,000 Megawatts idle capacity.  On the contrary, power supply crises are currently bedeviling the economies of nearly all EAC partner states, causing loss of businesses, low productivity and at least demonstrations in Kampala.

When it was built in the 1950s, the Owen Falls Dam in Uganda was supposed to generate electricity for supply to the whole of East Africa for a very long time into the future. The British engineers who built it said the Dam could meet the power needs of up to a billion East Africans. There was a caveat though: “Only if the turbines were properly maintained.”

East Africans are hardly 150 million people. In fact, according to installed capacity, the Owen Falls Dam alone can meet the power needs of the whole of Africa, which has not yet hit the one billion people mark.  But here we are. East Africa is struggling to light up whereas that job was completed by the British colonialists nearly 60 years ago. (The Dam’s construction started in 1951, and was finally commissioned by Queen Elizabeth ll in 1954).

East Africa can build roads, commission regional railways and port projects but all that will amount to nothing if the people will not have affordable electricity so that they can produce goods at affordable cost for cost-effective exchange on the improved infrastructure within the region. Integration can then take a natural course.

Short of that I believe, partner states will continue to think individually while the region dreams of deeper integration. On the other hand, if that is not ‘resource curse,’ I don’t know how else to describe it. We don’t have to believe in it but it surely impacts on our lives! Such is the challenge of our leaders and the people’s dilemma.

Source The Guardian



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