The concern raised by the media bosses in EAC about the low levels of awareness about the EAC integration process points to a faux pas and a hitch in the process. The old EAC is often said to have broken up because of the leaders' disagreements. The new EAC may fail to take off because of citizen exclusion...the same thing said differently.
To appreciate the ordinary wananchi's understanding of the integration process, two incidents may serve the purpose. During one of the meetings of the National Implementation Committee for the Common Market Protocol, one participant narrated his experience of meeting two joyous traders that had been evicted from Park Yard market Nakivubo.
The traders were jubilating, praising the Government for allocating them space on Jinja Road for their market!! The source of their joy? A huge billboard announcing the birth of the East African Common Market. The key word here was 'Common': ( as in 'common man', omuntu wa bulijjo). This market( the physical place where the billboard was) would serve all the common people in East Africa, according to their interpretation.
Another interesting thing we encountered in the course of a baseline survey on the free movement of goods within the EAC came from a mitumba shoe trader who complained of harassment at the Kenya border as he tried to cross with his merchandise. He could not understand why he was subjected to inspection and taxes, yet radio adverts were talking of trade with no taxes! Now that the media house bosses have realised this lacuna, the buck stops with them. The majority newspapers in the region have only tended give us occasional story-type news about the whole process. Yet there is a lot that these media houses can and should do.
The questions and comments raised by Public Relations Officers from various ministries, departments and agencies during one EAC media meeting betrayed this lacuna even further.
For starters, the media houses owe it to Ugandans and East Africans to have to take up matters EAC as a special project in their editorial plans. A periodic pull-out, the way we have the various products for each reader category would give the process a great of good. This would highlight such issues as simplified and dissected protocols and their implications, tracking the implementation progress et al.
Even simplified translations into key vernaculars, for print and electronic media. The only translation initiative I have seen was an initiative by a Women's organisation, seeking to translate the simplified Common Market Protocol into Kiswahili for the cross-border women traders.
Media bosses, over to you. You owe it to us and you have the means to deliver it.
The writer is an independent consultant on socio economic and political issues