The other day we went to a “jua kalipart of the town of Mbale in eastern Uganda. It’s the kind of place where men in dirty overalls swear a lot and are pushy – but they’re great craftsmen and genius makers.

You show them something on the internet, come back a few hours later, and what they’ve achieved simply takes your breath away.

They are also very political. We arrived in a car registered in Kenya, and it was a huge magnet. I didn’t see it coming.

If you want the experts on Kenya’s August election, don’t look for them in Nairobi. Come to this tough and creative corner of Mbale. They cornered us several times. Many wanted to know how “our man” President William Ruto was doing and claimed to have particular insight into the strategy that brought him victory.

Almost as many wanted to know how “our hero,” former prime minister and Azimio la Umoja standard bearer, Raila Odinga, was doing. They claimed to have and offered an inside story of how their hero was “robbed” of victory. Kenyans, they grumbled, learned the wrong ways to steal Uganda’s votes.

Whichever side they are on in Kenya’s electoral division, their commitment is admirable. They represent what analysts in the region have called a strong “East Africanization” of national politics. They argue that East Africa’s integration momentum may be lagging, but connecting minds and spreading knowledge about the rest of the bloc has made significant progress.

In this way, the leaders represent something important beyond their national borders. President Ruto’s positioning as a con man seems to have resonated with some of the Mbale jua kali, who are the city’s underclass. There is a widespread belief that following his announcement that Ugandan milk (banned and restricted in the past) will be allowed to sell unfettered in Kenya, free trade will flow under his watch. Ugandans believe that under a free trade regime in agricultural products, they will wipe the floor with regional rivals.

Raila’s appeal also comes from a part of this group that feels marginalized, not economically, but politically. They are the ones whose candidates ran unsuccessfully against President Yoweri Museveni for decades, were beaten, detained, tortured and some of their compatriots killed. And within that, a subset sees him as a Moses figure for the politically marginalized regional “Luo Nation.”

There is also a notable section that is still in former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s corner. The regional bourgeoisie and the upper bourgeoisie saw him as one of them. He was raised in the good things and therefore understood their value. He is a happy man. A pair of sure hands that wouldn’t set the attic on fire, knows good music, and will likely pay a good price for a quality piece of art if he sees one. Although in Uhuru’s case, former First Lady Margaret Kenyatta would likely be the one buying art in the household.

At the top level, there are a few notable vehicles that lead this connection of minds. At the top are the financial institutions. Kenyan banks like KCB and Equity have woven a sophisticated web of very East African boards, consultants and portfolios. Many of them are cosmopolitan and have been at the forefront of the “Africa Rising” movement for the first 15 years of this century.

The second is the Rotary Club, which in East Africa has seen quiet but truly remarkable growth among successful millennials and which organizes many regional events.

The third is art and culture. In mid-September, Nyege Nyege, easily Africa’s biggest electronic music festival, took place after a two-year hiatus imposed by Covid-19. He stood along a scenic spot along the bank of the Nile in Uganda’s former industrial town of Jinja, which is his home.

Accounts of the number of people who came from across East Africa and the world to attend Nyege Nyege range from 12,000 to 20,000. One of my traveling companions on this trip was involved in the logistics transporting many Kenyans to Nyege Nyege. He says Kenyan immigration officials at the Kenya-Uganda border told him they had registered at least 4,000 Kenyans who had crossed for the festival.

As they share more of the same pie; try to make the world a better place collectively; dancing madly in the mud of Nyege Nyege, and diving into the same river to take a bath together, interest in what happens at the source of the businesses they feed on has grown.

Take the case of Nyege Nyege. When 4,000 Kenyans show up, Kenyan politics can no longer be a mysterious, often ethnic political event that should bother a millennium festival organizer. Suddenly, what Raila or Ruto promise to do during election campaigns is a big bread and butter problem in Jinja. It might rain on the party. At worst, 4,000 Kenyan fans might not show up next time, and there might be no electronic music playing along the Nile. We may have crossed the Rubicon of East Africa.

Mr. Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. @cobbo3