Tag Archives: Tanzania

Tanzania’s isolation in the East African Community

8 Oct


In June this year, the presidents of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda met in Kampala and then announced a plan with definite timelines to speed up integration in the East African Community. They have since met again in Mombasa and will be in Kigali soon.

There were two reactions to this development.

The first was that the three were creating a two-lane integration process – one for those who wanted to sprint and another for dawdlers.

The second was a signal that if the other two could not make up their mind about how they wanted the East African Community to move forward, they risked being left behind.

In both cases, depending on where one stood on the issue, the action of the three countries was said to be leading to the possible isolation of Tanzania and Burundi or to pulling them along to join the others.

Tanzania shrugged and scoffed at such suggestions, saying they were inconsequential and that the trio could go ahead with their plans. Some Tanzanians even claimed that not much could be done without their country since it was the regional centre of gravity.

That initial disdainful dismissal of what has come to be known as the tripartite arrangement has given way to realism. Now Tanzania and Burundi are chafing at being left out by the other three partner states. The prospect of isolation, or at any rate being left behind, is looming.

Indication that this change of attitude is happening came from a recent meeting of the East African Council of Ministers in Arusha.

A lot of good may come from the decisions of Presidents Paul Kagame, Yoweri Museveni and Uhuru Kenyatta to go it alone. They are now likely to pull along the other reluctant partners after all.

In many senses both the actions of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and the new response by Burundi and Tanzania had to happen at some point. Exasperation among East African Community enthusiasts with Tanzania for its slow pace towards integration was bound to trigger some reaction or other.

It is not a coincidence that the three countries chose to address the very areas where Tanzania has been less cooperative: single customs territory, non-tariff barriers, free movement of people, goods, services and capital, infrastructure and political federation.

For long the excuse of the Tanzanian leadership was that their citizens should not be stampeded into faster integration because there was no urgency and in any case they needed time to grasp the concept.

As it now turns out, that was only a pretext. Ordinary Tanzanians now recognise that the other three partner states are determined to go ahead without them. The prospect of achieving what they have set out to do is very real. The likelihood of isolation, or at the very least being left behind, is also becoming real and is being voiced by ordinary people.

Politicians are now picking it up because it is becoming a serious issue and likely to make them climb down from their arrogant position.

This change of attitude has obviously been forced on the Tanzanian leadership. They now realise they might lose out if the other countries establish a single customs territory and also start using a single-tourist visa. And despite repeated denials, plans to build the oil and transport infrastructure in the northern corridor will significantly affect the volume of cargo along the central corridor.

Already, there are examples of a climb down. Tanzania unilaterally hiked charges on Rwandan-registered trucks ferrying transit goods through its territory. Rwanda retaliated and raised charges on Tanzanian trucks. Tanzania cried foul but in the end backed down and reduced the charges they had set without consultation.

The decision was not, of course, a result of good neighbourly feelings. It was the product of hard-nosed business calculations. Tanzania has more trucks doing business from the port of Dar es Salaam to Kigali and on to northern Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was therefore bound to lose from a protracted tariff war.

The same considerations are probably coming into play with regard to the tripartite arrangements between Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. The fear of loss and isolation will make the Tanzanian leadership find their East African feet and recognise that it is in their best interest to travel together with their partners and at the same pace.

They might yet rediscover the integrationist spirit of their predecessors. Historically, ideologically and even in practical terms, Tanzania was the most integrationist of the East African countries. This owed in large measure to Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s Pan-Africanism and de-ethnicisation of the country, and the fact that the country was the home of nearly all liberation movements in East, Central and Southern Africa.

About ten years ago, all that began to change. We began to see the development of an inward looking nationalism and dangerous flashes of xenophobia.

That could yet change again and the previous enthusiasm for a united East Africa return. The fear of isolation and loss of business may bring that about.


Lull before the storm in DRC?

22 Apr

It has been unusually quiet in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of late. Is this a sign that things are getting better there? Don’t fool yourself. They haven’t for the last fifty years and won’t now unless several things happen.

First, the Congolese government must take responsibility for what has gone wrong in the region and correct it. It cannot continue blaming outsiders for its own failures. In the same way, it cannot rely on outsiders for solutions to its own weaknesses.

Second, the United Nations and others in the international community should stop treating Congo like a country more sinned against than sinning. They must show it its sins and pressure it to put its house in order. In any case they share the blame for the mess in Congo and have an obligation to put the situation right. That requires that they own up and see the situation as it actually is, not what they would like it to be. It requires respecting the lives of millions of Congolese and not putting narrow and selfish economic and political interests above them.

The silence is not about improvement in the Congolese situation. It is perhaps because the international media and their rights kin, those creatures who seem to enjoy beating war drums and then gleefully cheer as people tear each other apart and then pretend to be horrified,  have their attention turned to other areas that feed their lust for violence. Or it may be the proverbial lull before the storm. It is probably both.

While there hasn’t been much fighting on the ground lately, there is still an atmosphere of belligerence. There has been a great deal of sabre-rattling from all sides involved in the conflict in eastern DRC apparently caused by the imminent arrival of a military intervention force in the region.

The Congolese government has high hopes in the force and has felt so emboldened as to order the M23 rebels to disarm and disband. They give the impression that the intervention brigade has come to help the government fight M23.

Notice they do not mention other rebel groups like the FDLR. Is it because it has ceased to exist or is no longer a threat to its citizens and neighbouring countries? More likely, it is because the Congolese government and FDLR are now allies and the latter’s fighters have agreed to fight alongside  the government troops.

As usual in Congo, the government and the international community are living under self-delusion. Even if the M23 were the major problem and even if they were to disappear, it is doubtful that peace would return to eastern DRC. M23 is not the cause of the conflict. it is merely a response to an existing situation.

In their excitement about the intervention brigade, the government in Kinshasa has ignored the peace talks with M23 in Kampala, which shows they were never committed to them in the first place.

On its part, the M23 has been warning both the government and the countries that will contribute to the force against attacking its positions and has promised them a bloody nose if they do. They have reminded them that they have a cause to fight and even die for while the intervention brigade does not.

The M23 rebels insist that there are ongoing peace talks in Kampala which should be given a chance. They have therefore put the UN on the spot for its apparent preference for a military solution to eastern Congo’s problems, when its mandate should be working towards a political resolution of the conflict.

Countries contributing troops to the intervention brigade have also been flexing their muscle. For instance South Africa has said it is not afraid of a fight with the rebels. They obviously want to prove a point – that they are a capable force despite suffering heavy casualties inflicted by the Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic. There are, of course, other reasons for South Africa’s involvement, among them, protecting South African individual and corporate business interests in DRC.

Tanzania has been spoiling for a fight for different reasons.

Ever since Mrs Joyce Banda became president, Malawi has been cosying up to the west, and contributing troops is part of the effort to ingratiate itself to them. Besides, Malawi has a large Rwandan refugee population that includes Interahamwe, and it would not be beyond them to want to use the opportunity to infiltrate into Congo and join their FDLR confreres.

These are all the ingredients of a major conflict in Eastern DRC if good sense does not prevail and restraint exercised.

Amidst all this, the UN and the international community are making the same mistakes they made in Rwanda in 1994.

In Rwanda, they withdrew UN peacekeeping troops and looked on as the genocide was committed.

In DRC they are reinforcing an already huge force with a brigade that has been given a shoot to kill mandate. However, its role is not to protect vulnerable civilians, but to prop up an inefficient government and protect business interests of outsiders. It has nothing to do with getting rid of armed groups in, or return peace to, the region.

Tanzania at fifty is pale image of its former self

13 Dec

Tanzania celebrated fifty years anniversary of independence last Friday. A week earlier, the East African Community Summit had met in Bujumbura, Burundi to discuss, among other things, the East African federation.

The catch phrase among federation enthusiasts in the last decade has been “fast-tracking” the process. At the Bujumbura Summit, Tanzania put the brakes on that movement as it has done since the idea was resurrected. What‘s the hurry for, Tanzanian leaders asked

For a long time Tanzania has, to varying degrees, been associated with the idea of federation of East Africa. But with regard to9 the very idea of political union, the Tanzania of today is completely different from the Tanganyika of fifty years ago or the United Republic of Tanzania that followed.

Tanganyika fifty years ago was perhaps the most pro federalist of the East African countries. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere famously offered to delay Tanganyika’s independence if that could facilitate the formation of an East African federation. That was, of course, part of his thinking on greater African unity – that it could be attained by first building regional blocs that could later come together into an African Union of sorts. It was also part of his wider Pan-African view in which he saw the liberation of the whole continent as a necessary precondition for an eventual union.

It was for this reason that Tanzania became home to many liberation movements. It is difficult to see that happening today in an increasingly inward-looking Tanzania.

Half a century later, the leadership in Tanzania is the least enthusiastic about federation. Where Mwalimu Nyerere sought to remove obstacles to federation, today’s leaders place numerous barriers in its path.

And it is not Tanzania alone that has changed its attitude to the idea of a political union of East African countries.

At the time of independence Uganda was the most reluctant about federation. Various diverse interests, not always mutually accommodating, converged in their opposition to a political union of the region. President Milton Obote was concerned about fading into oblivion if he was to play in the same political space as the more respected and philosophical Nyerere and the better-known Jomo Kenyatta. The Kabaka of Buganda feared submersion and loss of prominence in a wider union.

Of course, they did not put their objections in these crass selfish terms. They couched them in the need to protect the national interest.

Kenya, then as now, was aware of the benefits of federation to its more advanced industry and also the resentment this caused among the other countries. Quite understandably it did not, and still does not, push too hard for federation.

That task has been taken up by Uganda, arguably the most enthusiastic country in East Africa about creating an East African Federation as soon as possible. Some argue that it is not Uganda, but President Yoweri Museveni who is actually very keen on fast federation so that he can lead it.

Whatever the reason for wanting to fast track the federation, Uganda has shifted from an opponent to the most ardent supporter while Tanzania has moved from warm enthusiasm to foot-dragging.

So, what is behind this reversal where proponent turns opponent and vice versa?

Arguments for closer union remain the same and largely accepted as valid – a large market for regional industries and to attract foreign investment, a stronger voice in international affairs and a bigger role in global geopolitics.

Reasons against are less convincing. And as in all such cases what are said in public are dressed in nationalist garb. The real reasons remain private and are crudely connected to power.

Today Tanzania has similar fears to what Uganda had nearly fifty years ago – being swamped by hordes of foreigners and losing its identity and influence.

In public they argue that the original dynamics on which the premise of an East African Federation was built have changed with the introduction of new members Rwanda and Burundi. They fear that land grabbers from Kenya and land-starved Rwandans and Burundians will descend on their idle land and carve it among themselves.

The spectre of Kenyan manufactures flooding Tanzanian markets, Ugandan and Rwandan cattle keepers roaming the empty plains colours national thinking and elicits irrational response3s.

However, similar fears have not been raised about land-seeking farmers from Southern Africa, or industries from that region. The fears are therefore probably more than what is stated in public.

But in any case there are in fact advantages to be gained from these so-called invasions. Imagine the meat, leather and related industries that can be built on the “foreign” cattle. Or the increased production on hitherto unused land. Or the jobs and more incomes from all the increased economic activity – all taking place in Tanzania.

And with the possible admission into the East African Community of other countries with even bigger unutilised tracts of land, the feared invasion of its territory by neighbours should not arise.

The real impediment to federation seems to hinge around concerns for its own union with Zanzibar. The Union has always been strained. In the last decade or so it has been severely tested. A federation of East Africa might Mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar joining as separate members. The likely dissolution of the United Republic of Tanzania is something Tanzanian leaders cannot countenance.

That is the real stumbling block; not Rwandans or others grabbing land.

Why some countries are smart and others laggards

9 Aug

Talking (or writing) about famine can elicit unexpected reactions, including jokes. There was this one reported in the Tanzanian Mail on Sunday of 7/8/2011 by a correspondent on the current famine in East Africa.

It went something like this: When the Rwandan leaders want to start an important project, they send an official to attend a seminar it Tanzania and as sure as night follows day, he will come across a bored Tanzanian researcher who has a complete blueprint somewhere with the complete designs for the project in question. The generous Tanzanian blows the dust off the binder containing the study, gives it to the Rwandan free of charge and forgets about it. A couple of years later, everybody in the region joins in the praise of Rwanda for the brilliant, innovative project taking shape in the small country.

I do not know whether this joke is told in praise of Rwanda’s smartness or in condemnation of Tanzania going to sleep on valuable information. I do not even know whether this is meant to show how brilliant Tanzanian researchers are, but how inept their government is. Whatever the intention is, it brings out very important issues about development.

It shows that you need information to base your plans on and that you have the ability to use it. You must recognise current and future challenges – whether they are about food security, climate change, information technology, or governance and make appropriate plans, and more importantly implement them.

This is where Rwanda gets smart. Where the information comes from is immaterial. If studies that deal with a specific issue exist elsewhere, why, they can be used. After all, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

I am sure they can only do this if they have thought hard about an issue and need answers. The next logical step is to design a plan that will provide a solution, and there should be no limitations about where that should come from. If it comes from within, well and good; if from outside, no harm. Indeed, contrary to the views of cynics or apologists for laggards, many of the solutions to Rwanda’s development issues are home-grown; resulting from inquiry that often delves into the country’s history.

But, of course, if scholars and technocrats from Tanzania or elsewhere have developed plans that they do not know what to do with, it is only sensible that the product of so much intellectual effort should not be put to waste. A useful neighbour will help out. And if after a while the “bored” researcher and politicians realise the value of their work, why, they have a working example to point to and emulate.

That is what good neighbourliness is all about.

Looked at differently and without intellectual pettiness, no country in this world has ever developed solely on ideas generated by its citizens. They have borrowed, bought, copied or stolen ideas and blueprints. The more powerful have used various methods to lure the smartest people to their countries. The less strong, but far-sighted, send their brightest to learn from developments in other countries.

Only a fool does not learn from others. Only the dim-witted think they have all the answers. It does not take long for them to realise that others actually have similar or better answers.

The joke also reveals a disconnect between politicians and technocrats in the search for practical solutions to Africa’s development. Where political performance is measured by the severity of tongue-lashing real or imaginary opponents, there is little incentive to tax the brain with complicated plans and strategies. Why bother with blueprints when you know your upward mobility depends more on intrigue, sycophancy and pulling down others?  In any case your political superiors will not notice because they are also busy finding a foothold on the ladder.

Let the technocrats produce papers and blueprints; that’s what they are paid for.

The result is predictable: bored, dispirited and disgusted researchers sad to see their valuable work gather dust. Would you blame anyone curious enough to pick it up, blow off the dust and use it? At least here is recognition for the effort of the researcher.

In some of our bigger countries, there is a false assumption that their size is insurance against the problems some of the smaller countries face. There are huge expanses of unused land and untapped resources and so on. But quite often, this turns out to be a fallacy. Size and adequacy are not directly proportional.

This sense of false security (actually, insecurity) leads to the fallacious thought that other people covet your huge resources, especially land. In turn, this leads to the jingoism we have been seeing lately. For instance Tanzanian Home Affairs Minister, Shamsi Nahodha blamed insecurity in the Ngara region on Rwandan immigrants. At about the same time, Member of Parliament, Charles Mwijage claimed that President Paul Kagame was sending Rwandan pastoralists into Tanzania.

Both officials have misplaced their concerns. Instead of trying to whip up nationalistic emotions (everyone knows the effects of xenophobia), they should have put their time to better use by designing plans for utilising the resources in North-western Tanzania. That way, no development blueprint would be lying around for anyone to pick for free.