The former MP in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), Mike Sebalu, has attributed the slow progress of the regional integration to “petty nationalism”.
Addressing the EALA committee on regional affairs and conflict resolution in Kampala today, Sebalu said as globalization takes centre stage for global development, there is need to create supranational sovereignty.
He reminded legislators that integration involves subjecting and sacrificing individual interests to other actors so as to focus on the common good.
“If you want to enjoy your absolute sovereignty, then you have no business joining an integrating arrangement because doing so means subordinating your sovereignty to a supranational label, but if you don’t want to subordinate it, then you are better off out of the equation,” Sebalu said.
In agreement, among other legislators, was Kenya’s Aden Abdulkadri Omar who said overcoming petty nationalism should be at the core of the legislators’ agenda.
“We want to have it; let’s go for it,” said Omar. “When shall we ever give birth to the true East African Community if we do not let go of the issue of petty nationalism?”
On how to fight the elephant in the room, Omar said the 54 EALA members should take the message to their respective countries and edify citizens about the benefits of the integration.
Sebalu suggested that members should explain terminologies used while legislating so that people at the grassroots can easily relate with the process.
For example, he said when terminologies such as ‘common market’ are used, a local person might visualize a physical big building in which traders come to transact business.
“We need to unpack and bring the people along with us, but let us not negate the role of leadership [because] it is very important. That’s why I am saying let us make integration an ordinary topic of discussion,” he said, adding that the topic should move away from the boardrooms to the people it is intended for.
EALA Speaker Martin Ngoga appreciated Sebalu’s presentation and his advice on the need to make integration a crosscutting issue.
“We mirror the integration process; so, the way we relate [determines] the way we are able to show that integration is a possibility. That is what would demonstrate that we have capacity to take it beyond our debating.”
Like Sebalu, Ngoga asked members to use less elitist language while delivering the message about integration to the common people.
Speaking to The Observer after the session, Uganda’s Mary Mugyenyi said massive sensitization is needed for people to understand the benefits of the integration such as open markets.
“If we say let’s open our borders, let’s open them… I think one of the activities we have to do is to move around the country and sensitise people,” she said.
Sebalu urged Ugandan MPs to implore the country to embrace Kiswahili, since it is widely used in the region.