Is EAC without Tanzania thinkable?
Parution: Monday 18 November 2013, 12:02
Par:Dr Alexis Habiyaremye
Since 2004, the East African Community (EAC) has embarked on a fast-tracking program aimed to transform the regional block into a federated state with unitary institutions and a common decision making process. Whereas this program was meant to further the integration process between all five member states, the presidents Kagame of Rwanda, Kaguta Museveni of Uganda and Kenyatta of Kenya seem to have recently attempted to sideline Tanzania in by undertaking decisions in a series of tripartite meetings without inviting their Tanzanian counterpart. On November 7, 2013, President Kikwete told the Tanzanian Parliament that his country will never quit the EAC despite the combined efforts of his three partners to isolate him. Is an EAC without Tanzania überhaupt imaginable?
Being a core founding member of the East African community, Tanzania has remained one of its clearest voices, promoting an East African integration based on a Pan-African vision. The EAC was initially formed in 1967 by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda with the aim to foster economic, social and cultural cooperation in order to achieve a shared development. After the community was dissolved in 1977 mainly as a result of political disagreement between the member states, Tanzania, as the anchor of the regional peace and stability, played a crucial role in its revival. In 1999 a new treaty re-establishing the East African Community was signed by Kenya, Tanzanian and Uganda. The re-instituted EAC entered into force on July 7, 2000 and was later joined by Rwanda and Burundi in 2007 as new member states.
All along, Tanzania has shown commendable leadership in shaping the vision of the Community and facilitating the accession of these new members. The fast-tracking the East African Federation (FTEAF) project was a program initiated in 2004 by the East African heads of state to accelerate the EAC integration process and lead it to its ultimate stage of a political federation of East African states by the horizon of 2013. However, as a result of varying degrees of divergence in the implementation speed between the member states, even the common currency stage has so far not been reached. Given the central position that Tanzania occupies in the regional block and its pivotal role in shaping the vision for the East African integration, it is pertinent to reflect on the political, diplomatic and economic perils that can result from the attempt to sideline it.
Although the odds that these isolation attempts lead to a new collapse of the EAC are very slim, forging a so-called “coalition of the willing” can lead to dysfunctional EAC institutions and paralyse the decision making of the Community. The political and economic losses from such a paralysis are considerable, especially in the three countries advocating the coalition. Before creating divisions among member states without a mandate of the concerned population, it is important to bear in mind the blame that was laid on Idi Amin’s dictatorial behaviour for the collapse of the initial EAC, although there were many other reasons that led to its dissolution. It’s hardly imaginable that any of the three presidents wants to be remembered in the same register as Idi Amin in the EAC annals.
Alienating Tanzania in the EAC also carries the risk of reign re-igniting tensions in the entire Great Lakes region that Tanzanian leaders are laudably contributing to stabilise. Since independence in 1963, Tanzania has indeed been the anchor of stability in a turbulent East Africa. Its current contribution in the UN Force Intervention Brigade has been a key factor in ridding North-Kivu of the murderous M23 militia preying on Congolese population and its resources. Dar-es-Salaam has often acted as a tireless peace broker and both presidents Kagame of Rwanda and Museveni of Uganda owe much of their current power to the support they received from Tanzania when they were fighting the Milton Obote regime. Kagame was trained in intelligence gathering in Tanzania when he was serving in Museveni’s bush war. The Tanzanian government has also played a crucial role in the Arusha negotiations aimed at finding peace in Rwanda after Kagame’s Rwandese Patriotic Army invaded the tiny central African nation in 1990. For Museveni and Kagame, snubbing Tanzania now is therefore a remarkable way of returning the favour to a country that propelled them to their current political power. Such an unthankful retribution will not go unnoticed among the political classes of their respective countries.
By blaming Tanzania for not taking decisions against the wish of its population, the tripartite initiative also bears the risk of alienating their own citizens. Tanzania’s EAC partners have namely accused Dar-es-Salaam of holding up the Community’s integration process, but a close examination of the dynamics underlying the proposed free movement of goods and services reveals that those accusations need to be nuanced. Indeed, whereas close to 70 percent of surveyed Kenyan households responded to be in support of the fast tracking project, a large majority of Tanzanians (close to 80 percent) are wary of a too quick opening of their country to their neighbours. They namely fear the flooding of their markets by imports from more industrialized Kenya and a widespread land grab if citizens of land-scarce Uganda and Rwanda were to be granted land rights in Tanzania. A government that respects the will of its people won’t impose the integration in a tempo that does not allow its citizens the time necessary to digest the changes and adapt to them.
It would therefore be a political miscalculation for any leader in the other EAC member states to think they can force the Tanzanian government to push the fast tracking program down the throat of Tanzanian people. Using autocratic methods to implement the fast-tracking program carries the risk of alienating the citizens in a country where they enjoy political maturity. This could lead to a feeling of disconnection in their own populations and provoke an erosion of the support for the integration process.
Instead of showing hostility toward the Tanzanian government, EAC partners would do better by learning from it and show more understanding for the concerns of Tanzanian people and those of their own citizens at home. It would also be more helpful if they deployed more effort to support Dar-es-Salaam in reassuring its citizens that they also stand to gain from opening their country to their EAC brothers. The respect shown by the Tanzanian government to its citizens is not only a necessary accountability to the citizenry, but it also reflects a democratic practice that will benefit all EAC citizens in general.
Indeed, only an integration process at a rhythm and in conditions fully understood and accepted by Tanzanian people will prepare them to welcome their neighbours with open arms and interact with them in a way that is advantageous to everybody, come the day that all borders will go open for the free movement of capital, goods and services. Trying to speed up EAC integration without Tanzania is therefore like attempting to push harder on the gas pedal after throwing the engine out of the car for displeasure that the engine is not fast enough.
Attempts to isolate Tanzania diplomatically are also doomed to fail as Dar-es Salaam’s current leadership has a much stronger standing in international arenas when compared to any of those who seek to collude against it. For Kenyan president Kenyatta, who won his presidency in a free and fairly contested election, siding with the autocratic rulers of Rwanda and Uganda is forging a counter-natural alliance. While he might be lured by their anti-ICC speeches because of the current accusations against him, everything indicates he is smart enough to come sooner rather than later to the realisation that the place of a Kenyan president is on the side of democratically elected leaders like Kikwete rather than among autocrats whose political power is mainly based on constitutional manipulations and rigged elections. Dar-es-Salaam’s soft power is therefore likely to be much more effective than Kagame’s and Museveni’s anti-ICC rhetoric in wielding positive influence to avert ICC meddling in Kenyan politics.
Kagame and Museveni, who orchestrated the invasion of Zaire in 1996, are responsible for the worst crimes committed in the great lakes region. ICC accusations against Uhuru Kenyatta are in no way comparable to the horrendous crimes committed by Kagame’s army during his invasion of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as documented in the 2010 UN Mapping Report. Kagame’s anti- ICC rhetoric is therefore more an attempt to shield himself from prosecution for own crimes, rather than an expression of solidarity with Kenyatta, who enjoys a strong support among his own people. From that perspective the political risk of siding with autocrats to isolate Tanzania is rather considerable in a young democracy like Kenya. Tanzania, rather than Kagame’s Rwanda, is thus the most natural partner for Kenya in the EAC, not only because of closer cultural affinity but also because of the higher intensity of their exchanges and their shared weight in the Community as role models of good governance for their smaller, landlocked partners. This is what Kenyan president seems to have quickly understood when he started mending his relations with Tanzanian president Kikwete.
By its dual membership of SADC and EAC, Tanzania also plays a pivotal role in regional politics and has the potency to impact the decision making in key African diplomatic circles. Its successful role in support of peace in North–Kivu through its participation in the UN Force Intervention Brigade alongside South Africa underscores this growing importance of its leadership in the region. Rather than being suspicious of this influence, Tanzania’s EAC partners should understand that they can benefit from it as Dar-es-Salaam acts as a junction between these regional groupings and facilitate a broader integration between them for the realization of the Pan-African vision. Because, ultimately, in the face of powerful external players vying for the control of its resources, all Africa will have to unite or perish.
Finally, attempts to isolate Tanzania are also economically unsound. Although all partners stand to gain from a fully fledged free movement of goods and services between the member states, it does not take a sophisticated economic analysis to understand that the three countries whose presidents have been trying to isolate their Tanzanian counterpart are those that stand to gain the most from having a strong Tanzania in the more integrated community. The country’s sheer landmass of 947,300 square kilometers represents the most important resource of arable land in the whole Community. Its fertile soil has the potential yield enough food to ensure the Community’ food security. The country has also plenty of natural resources and has already attracted the interest of China and US for its economic potential as underscored by this visits by both Chinese president Xi Jinping and US president Barack Obama earlier this year.
Moreover, Tanzania’s strategic position along the Indian Ocean makes of the country the most obvious gateway to central African interior. Free movement of goods and services with Tanzania is crucial for Burundi, Rwanda and the resource-rich provinces of North- and South-Kivu in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. With their excess labour and limited land resources, land-locked Rwanda and Uganda cannot afford to create an East African community without Tanzania. This is especially true for Rwanda, whose access to international markets would be made much easier by the development of modern railway-link to Dar-es-Salaam port. The alternative route through Uganda and Kenya to the port of Mombasa is much longer and therefore offers a much more expensive option for a country struggling to muster the needed financial resources to invest in vital transportation infrastructure. For the landlocked EAC members, boycotting the Dar-es-Salaam route because of the caprices of adventurous leaders would therefore prove to be an economic suicide in the long run.
Dr Alexis Habiyaremye