East African Airways, owned jointly by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, all but formally broke up today, demonstrating the difficulties of regional cooperation in emerging Africa.
The airways is the last major symbol of the East African community, once regarded as the model of regional cooperation which other African states could follow.
After suspending flights last week in the wake of months of haggling over money among the partner states, the airways board met today to decide the fate of the corporation. Ironically, the Tanzanian board members were unable to attend the Nairobi meeting because they were stranded in Dar Es Salaam without transportation due to the grounding of the planes.
While not announcing the airways' demise, the board's concluding statements left little doubt that its 31st years is its last. It said that ticket holders would be assisted in transferring to other carriers and that the near defunct corporation would make every effort to meent its responsibilities to its staff and creditors.
It is likely that the three partner states will soon establish independent national airlines. Uganda Airways, which was launched as a cargo carrier last year, will probably begin passenger service and Tanzania sources say that Kenya will take off with its own airlines this week.
Meanwhile, the Kenyans have been accursing Tanzania for months of planning its own national air service and there is added speculation that it may be pooled with Mozambique's airlines, Deta.
East African Airways planes were initially grounded last week during a cash flow crisis after fuel companies withdrew credit.
The ten-year history of the East African community has been one of steady decline. Its university, customs union, common currency board, common market and communications systems have all been dissolved or remain on paper only and the railways and harbors the countries used to manage jointly have all been taken over by the individual governments.
Only last week, Kenya established Kenya Railways to supplant East African Railways.
The latest dispute has led to an acrimonious war of words and gestures between Kenya Tanzania, reminiscent of the events that brought Kenya and Uganda to the brink of war last year. In blaming Kenya for the grounding of East African Airways, Tanzania's government-owned Daily News branded Kenyan authorities as "hyenas".
While refuting the accusations, Kenya has suspended sports linked with Tanzania and recalled a basket-ball team that was on its way to compete across the border. Kenya also announced that it would not send a delegation to Tanzania's national celebration later this week.
The stormy history of the East African can community and now its apparent end casts a shadow of gloom on the possibility for regional cooperation in Africa. Without secure national identities and viable economies, African states seem unable to carry out joint ventures.
Bothered by Kenya's capitalistic outlook, socialist Tanzania has been looking south toward Zambia and Mozambique for new cooperative enterprises, but the possibility of lasting cooperation, even among politically compatible economies, has not been tested.
Tanzania and Zambia opened the Chinese built Uhuru Railway a little over a year ago with great fanfare, but already petty nationalism is eroding som e of the line's services . For example, once a train crosses the border from Zambia to Tanzania, Zambian currency is no longer accepted for food and beverages. Yet, the staff and customs authorities refuse to allow any money to be exchanged, leaving passengers hungry and thirsty for a full day.
The breakdown of the East African Community does not augur well for the prospects for the economic community of West Africa, which started last year with 15 English, French and Portuguese speaking countries ranging from pro-West and staunchly capitalist Ivory Coast to the Marxist states of Benin, Guinea, and Guinea Bissau.