Tag Archives: Uganda

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.


Rwandans are not ungrateful

14 May

It is dishonest to selectively use history to launder the tainted record of an individual and by the same effort tarnish the image of a whole people by imputing base motives on them. Equally, it is utterly deceitful to attempt to absolve criminals from culpability by reassigning responsibility for their actions. It is also blatantly insincere to try to delegitimize a genuine national liberation struggle by questioning its justification.

There is a name for this sort of thing: revisionism and it is not a respectable undertaking. Yet this is what Mr Harold Acemah, described as a political scientist, consultant and retired diplomat, does in a number of articles in the Monitor newspaper.

In a story titled, “Some voices and lessons from down the memory lane” (Sunday Monitor, 12th May) he narrates former Ugandan President Apolo Milton Obote’s supposed defence of Rwandan refugees and the latter’s apparent betrayal of him. The gist of the story is that in 1960 Obote, then a member of the colonial legislative council, was a strong advocate of Rwandan refugees to be allowed asylum in Uganda against the wishes of the colonial government. But that the refugees subsequently showed extreme ingratitude when they participated in the liberation struggle that eventually removed Obote from power.

Acemah’s story thus tries to do two things; canonise Obote while demonise Rwandans. Judging from his other writings on Rwanda, the second aim seems to be his major preoccupation.

And in a hurry to do this, he picks two events, one at the beginning and the other at the end of Obote’s political career and then uses them to make a general assessment of Obote’s supposed good intentions and Rwandans’ alleged deplorable character.  What happened in the intervening twenty years that he has conveniently left out during which Obote was at the height of his power?

The facts are different from this simplistic selection of historical detail.

It is true that Milton Obote  showed pan-Africanist tendencies – at least in rhetoric – at some stage in his political career and may indeed have supported the right of Rwandans to seek refuge in Uganda. He may have done it out of conviction or perhaps from a desire to annoy the British colonial authorities and score political points or to raise his profile in pan-African circles. All this is possible.

But along the way, raw power and narrow political interests eroded his pan-African idealism and he allowed narrow nationalism to dictate his conduct. For instance in 1969 he famously threatened to expel all foreigners from Uganda, including his Luo cousins from Kenya who had given him refuge and from whom he acquired political skills (talk of ingratitude). Rwandans – both immigrants and refugees – were not to be spared either.

In 1982 Obote actually carried out the threat and expelled thousands of Rwandan refugees and Kinyarwanda –speaking Ugandans to Rwanda. He did not hesitate to burn and kill in order to force people out of the country. He knew the cruel fate that awaited  them in Rwanda, but that did not stop him. As expected the Habyarimana regime in Rwanda refused to accept them and as a result thousands perished in the no man’s land between the two countries. Even when the government of Rwanda relented under pressure and accepted some of its citizens as refugees, they were settled in uninhabitable areas where many more died.

Was this the action of a man who had reportedly argued that Ugandans and Rwandans were kin and none should suffer injustice when the other was there to help?

This insensitivity, brutality and injustice, more than anything else, drove many people to join the National Resistance Army. It was a matter of survival, not a question of ingratitude or betrayal.

It is a historical fact that the 1980 general election in Uganda was stolen by the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) and Obote assumed power illegally. What followed was a genuine liberation struggle. Obote’s response was to unleash more brutality and violence on Ugandans. He showed a great deal of intolerance and incompetence that were slowly leading the country to a failed state status. Was this the action of a saint that Acemah would like to add to the list of holy people? And conversely, was resistance and struggle for survival actions of the devil?

In an earlier story, “Some reflections on the Rwandan genocide” (Sunday Monitor, 14th April 2013) Mr Acemah had sought to put the cause of the genocide to the downing of President Habyarimana’s plane. He then went on to say that he did not “believe that Hutu extremists shot down the plane”. Without presenting any evidence, he wants the world to believe that others, most likely the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), did it.

Again Acemah wants to achieve two things here. First, he is at pains to absolve Hutu extremists from all blame. Second, he is only too eager to transfer responsibility to others.

He should save himself the trouble because various investigations have concluded that the plane was shot down by extremists with the support of their foreign backers.

In any case there are serious flaws in Acemah’s plane crash argument as the origin of the genocide, There was a plan that was well-known and was immediately executed. There had been periodic pogroms before that point to a history of genocide.

Finally, Acemah mixes religion with revisionism perhaps to lend it credibility. He is quick to judge and condemn Rwandan refugees as ungrateful people who will answer to the Lord (presumably Jesus Christ). But I remember the same Jesus Christ cautioning against quick judgement of others because that is his prerogative.

It appears Mr Acemah has appropriated that divine right and the right to revise history. He is wrong \on both counts.