Tanzania is considering pulling out of the East African Community (EAC), in the face of what political leaders in the country regard as “sustained isolation” by Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.
Although there have been simmering tensions between Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete and his Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda counterparts, on Wednesday Tanzania’s minister for EAC Affairs, Samuel Sitta, confirmed the worst fears.
He told a charged Parliament in Dodoma that Tanzania will not wait for a “divorce certificate” from Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, but will shoot before it is shot.
The minister spoke on the same day President Uhuru Kenyatta, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Salva Kiir of South Sudan signed a host of protocols and agreements in Kigali, including free movement of goods and persons, infrastructural development and transformation into a single Customs Union.
The pacts were signed on the sidelines of the three-day “Transform Africa Summit” to which Tanzania and Burundi, both EAC member states were not invited.
And Sitta confirmed that not a single Tanzanian minister attended the Kigali event. The only senior government official at the function was the permanent secretary in the ministry of EAC Affairs.
Claiming the trio of Kenyatta, Kagame and Museveni were engaged in some “dirty game”, the EAC Affairs minister assured legislators that Tanzania will not be bound any decisions arrived at by the leaders of Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda pertaining to the regional bloc.
But Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for EAC Affairs, Commerce and Tourism, Phyllis Kandie, explains that the recent meetings have focussed on the development of the northern corridor involving Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda and even the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The meetings have simply offered an infrastructural platform for boosting trade in these countries by easing movement of goods and persons, whose eventual goal is to promote the aspiration of the EAC,” Kandie told The Standard on Sunday.
Pressed further to comment on the Tanzanian position, the Cabinet Secretary was evasive only stating that Kenya was committed to a stronger and united EAC.
The import of Kandie’s sentiments, as previously stressed by President Kenyatta, is that Kenya is not just about to give up her southern neighbour.
EAC member countries are staring at a disturbing scenario, same as in 1977 when the original regional body first collapsed. Then Kenya was greatly blamed for the turn of events.
The Julius Nyerere administration accused Kenya of using Tanzania as a dumping ground for cheap, poor quality goods.
Nyerere further described Kenya as “a man eat man society” owing to land grabbing and corruption in the country, pronouncements that terribly irked President Jomo Kenyatta.
A near similar situation is on our hands with Tanzania and Kenya locked in a quiet diplomatic tussle over a host of issues.
Kikwete has, for instance, dragged his feet over the proposed political federation, mainly because of what his countrymen and women consider as genuine fears over their neighbours’ business aggressiveness and market edge.
According to Prof Phillip Nying’uro, an international relations expert, of the three original member countries of the EAC, only Tanzania puts its national interest first ahead of those of the region or other countries.
“Unlike the rest who append signatures to virtually every protocol, Tanzania has a tendency of weighing very carefully each treaty before committing herself. The country, for instance, opted out of COMESA (Common Market for East and Central Africa) to the SADC (Southern African Development Commission) bloc because of clear benefits and goodwill,” observes Nying’uro.
This partly explains Tanzania’s inflexibility with regard to opposition to allowing use of Identity Cards as travel documents, double-taxation of goods from other countries and rigidity in issuing work permits to East Africans. These facts are also attributable to Tanzania’s isolation.
Diplomatic sources in Arusha and Dar es Salaam have separately hinted to The Standard on Sunday at the rage by Tanzanian government for what it considers betrayal by Kenya. Despite putting its reputation on the line by supporting President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto’s bid to defer their cases at the International Criminal Court – a move that has reportedly irked key ally, US President Barack Obama – Tanzania feels the “ungrateful” Kenyatta government is instead stabbing it in the back.
Tanzania accuses Kenya of interfering with its bilateral agreements, particularly with Uganda over the building and upgrading of the Dar es Salaam port. A refurbished Dar habour is obviously a huge business threat to Kenya and Kenyatta reportedly moved fast to undercut Kikwete by refocusing Museveni on the Mombasa port.
Museveni had initially shifted interest to Tanzania following consequences of the 2007 post-election mayhem, whereby sections of the Kenya-Ugandan railway were uprooted and Ugandan-bound goods were momentarily stuck at the Kenyan port.
Rwanda and Uganda have accordingly reduced shipment of goods through Tanzanian ports of Dar-es-salaam, Tanga and Mtwara to Kenya and are backing reconstruction efforts at Mombasa’s Kilindini habour.
Separately, observers within Jubilee government also attribute the rift to a possible bad blood between Kenyatta and Kikwete. They say Tanzania was not overly enthusiastic to demonstrate its willingness to have Arusha host the Uhuru-Ruto ICC trials.
Nying’uro, who teaches International Relations (IR) at the University of Nairobi, also attributes the eminent falling out to ideological differences among the presidents. The other countries, he observes, feel Tanzania is emerging as the blue-eyed boy in the region, enjoying stronger ties with USA and the European Union.
The IR expert describes the union of the four nations, which are lately very vocal in expressing anti-US sentiments, as a coalition of anti-democracy agents: “Because of Kenya’s chaotic and bloody 2007 presidential poll, which is a precursor to the cases facing our leaders at the ICC (International Criminal Court), we are a blacklisted country. Kenya is joined by Rwanda, which is developing into a one-strongman-democracy as well as Uganda’s Museveni, who is reluctant to give up political power.”
Nying’uro further opines that Museveni’s manoeuvres have aggravated the situation. He observes that the Ugandan President has over the years tried to ensure that Kenya is greatly injured including his current campaign to have President Kenyatta skip the ICC trials.
Die almost cast
“He also does not want to encourage Tanzania to stay on board (EAC) partly because of the country’s emerging popularity in the West. With an already condemned Rwanda in the wings, Museveni hopes to emerge as a de facto regional boss,” he says.
With Museveni, Kenyatta, Kagame and Kiir now hammering out successive deals in their respective capital towns and not in Arusha, the designated EAC headquarters, the die is almost cast.
And Sitta now says Tanzania is closely monitoring “these machinations” and will soon make an official statement.
Parliamentarians in Dodoma have already suggested that Tanzania should explore ways and means of fostering co-operation with Burundi and the DRC in a new political and economic federation.
The question on the lips of some Kenyans now is whether the second collapse of EAC will happen under the watch of another Kenyatta – Mzee’s son, Uhuru?
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