PRO-UNIONISTS in the east African nations of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi must be excited a day is coming when we shall call ourselves truly one. Thanks to colonialists who incepted the idea of an East African Community, back at the beginning of the 20th century, with the formation of the East African Common Services Organization.
While East Africans are united by similarities in the African way of life, the Kiswahili language (which needs polishing in Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi), money is going to be quite an issue when the time comes for unification of currencies.
The currency used in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania is the shilling, tracing its origins in Britain. They have modified the currency by each nation placing different pictures on it to identify the nation. But the root is the same—Britain, colonizer of the three nations.
The currency used by the two new comers to the Community, Rwanda and Burundi, the “the two little brothers” I choose to call them, is the Franc; apparently adopted from Belgium, colonizer of the two nations.
What comes out at this point is that all East African nations are using currencies whose names were inherited from their colonizers. I understand Somalia has also clinged to the shilling, having also inherited it from Britain, but I will leave this troubled nation out of the picture because it doesn’t fit too well in our civilized group. You could call it a misfit of sorts.
Anyway, the unification of the British Shilling to the Belgian Franc to form a new legal tender for use in the East African nations raises the question of the existence of a need to form a unique currency to this region.
Many nations which were ruled by the British abandoned the Shilling to form something of their own. The United States and Zimbabwe formed the Dollar. India picked the Rupee. Congo-Zaire, which was also colonized by Belgium, dumped the Belgian Franc to form the Zaire. Yemen, which in the British thinking was part of East Africa, also formed something else.
Of course currency names are more associated with national pride than anything else, as far as I am concerned--which implies that nations which use other nation’s currencies are in effect saying they are really unable to think for themselves. It is in fact a way of sanctioning subservience.
I do not hate the British. I do not hate the Belgians either. In fact I belong to that school of thought which seeks to appreciate good things which might have come with colonialism; and there are things you can point to that are positive contributions of colonialism in Africa--although they are outweighed by the evil.
In the UK, the shilling is understood to have originated from “tribal wars” Europe. Available records indicate that warriors from tribes that surrounded the English people invaded the region of the English which is now the UK sometime hundreds of years back, instructed by their King.
This army of occupation stayed in the English country for many years. Then a depression hit the Kingdoms which sent them to war, and the King could not support the army in occupied English country. The soldiers then turned their military medals on their shoulders as currency, and civilians accepted the medals as a medium of exchange. The medals were called Shellingus (I an not sure about the spelling. The name might have only one ‘l’).
Anyway, from then on Shellingus, the name of the medals, was adopted as currency in English country, and that is the origin of the Shilling. It is rooted deep in the history of the English. So, what has this got to do with Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania—Somalia even.
Come on! Give me break. No Tanzania Shilling exists , no Kenya Shilling exists, no Uganda Shilling exists. The Shilling is European, and to be exact, it is British. Period. We have no African alternative currency name?
Rwanda and Burundi are using the Franc, a name tracing its origins in colonial Belgium. These humans probably had a good reason why they called their currency by that name. And you two little brothers have to start thinking about this too.
The British are fine people. The Belgians are fine people too. But we also need to let the world know we can be just as creative; that we can come up with a currency name that is totally East African and just as nice sounding as Shilling, Franc, Rupee, Dollar, Shekel or whatever. As we contemplate the political-economic union of East Africa, it appears prudent to also be thinking about what currency we want to use in the future. The Shilling? No. The Franc? Big NO! Let’s come up with something that is totally us.