Sunday, May 25, 2008


Remember when Mr Abdirahim Haithar Abdi, was elected as the Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly, back in November 29, 2001, There was acrimony but 6 years later, this Mandera-born legislator still has an ardous task to steer the EALA assembly into making laws that touch on the lives of the 120 million citizens of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

Tall, slightly lanky and bespectacled, Mr Abdi, 39, creates an initial impression of a young corporate executive. And when with his colleagues, most of them elderly, Mr Abdi stands out more for his height and youthfulness than for any other discernible attribute; that is if he is not in his flowing, colourful robes.

But beneath this official camouflage lies a sharp wit, political maturity and a burning passion for matters East African.

His assuming the mantle at the Arusha-based assembly last June was not without challenges, coming as it did about six months late – a scenario that nearly crippled the operations of the assembly and, by extension, the East African Community.

The EAC relies on the regional parliament for approval of its budget.The delay was caused by a political dispute over Kenya’s nine representatives to the assembly.

Mr Abdi, who was nominated by KANU, A political party in Kenya and was not among those whose selection was contested.

The matter was heard and determined by the East African Court of Justice in March last year.

“It has been a challenge, but my goal and that of my colleagues has been to build on achievements of the First Assembly. That is what we are pursuing,” he says.

The Second Assembly has been credited with coming up with crucial bills, particularly those regarding regional and international trade, including EAC’s stand on issues such as the World Trade Organisation and transport on Lake Victoria.

So determined is the Speaker that he is not letting disparities in political and socio-economic ideologies among the bloc’s partner states distract him.

“We are one in East Africa only separated by artificial boundaries. We have to take advantage of what we have,” he told the Sunday Nation in an interview in his office at Parliament Buildings, Nairobi.

The Speaker and his team have been in Nairobi for a three-week circuit session whose highlight was the swearing in of 18 new MPs from Rwanda and Burundi(Who joined EALA recently).

On the issue of political instability that rocked Kenya – a key member of the community – Mr Abdi said assembly has been directly involved in encouraging Kenyan leaders to work together to ensure peace and stability.

The assembly has now set up the Committee on Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution to deal with disputes such as that which rocked Kenya.

The committee is assessing the situation in Burundi to advise on how the stand-off between the government and FNL rebels can be resolved.

Regarding mutual suspicion among EAC member states, particularly that a partner such as Tanzania was not fully for a political federation, Mr Abdi said nothing could be further from the truth.

“There is a mistaken belief that Tanzania does not want a political federation. When we sought the opinion of East Africans on this matter, 78 per cent of Tanzanians said they were for the federation. All they wanted is for it to be done in a structured way, not hurriedly.”

The assembly is also working on an issue that is close to the hearts of many people in the region: free movement of people across borders.
Now in his second term at the regional assembly, Mr Abdi was elected unanimously to the speaker’s position.He also boasts a wealth of experience in regional business administration, having been a senior manager with two companies – Haithar Holdings Ltd and ABHA Ltd – both with a heavy presence in East Africa.

The father of three holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from American University in Washington DC, where he also did a stint as a graduate assistant from 1990 to 1991.

After his first election to EALA on November 29, 2001, Mr Abdi was elected to the House Regional Committee on Communication, Trade and Investment, among others.

He has represented EALA at a number of global forums such as those of the World Trade Organisation, African Union and other regional blocs in the continent.

Asked what motivates him on this job, Mr Abdi points to his vision for the community: “I am seeing a big future for the EAC. It is more than just the treaty we have in place but about our people and what they want.”

The legacy he would like to leave behind? That of a region whose people appreciate and see themselves as members of one big EAC family.